Skip to main content

International Humanitarian Law: Sources of IHL

About International Humanitarian Law

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), is also known as the Law of War or the Law of Armed Conflict. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, it is “a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.”

The law of warfare existed historically as a set of practices developed over hundreds of years, but in the mid-19th century states began to codify the law into treaties. The most significant early efforts were the First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907, which resulted in the Hague Conventions, which governed the conduct of warfare. These have been supplemented by additional agreements in the years since.

In 1949, in the aftermath of World War II, the Geneva Conventions established the rules protecting people during wartime. Specifically, they protect those not taking part in the hostilities, such as civilians and aid workers, as well as those no longer participating, such as the wounded and prisoners of war.

IHL consists of a number of these and a number of other treaties and conventions, as well as a body of customary international humanitarian law.

This guide contains resources and information about IHL, divided into the following pages: