A 'law" is a legal mandate applicable to armed conflict based upon custom, treaty or convention. Articles in this section illustrate the application of international humanitarian law to situations of armed conflict.


Act of War

All members shall refrain from the threat or use of force in their international relations. 


The use of force by one State against another, not justified by self-defense or other legally recognized exceptions 


The great majority of amnesty laws do take into account the preservation of third-party rights. 


Its manifestations included ineligibility from voting, separate living areas and schools, internal travel passes for blacks, and white control of the legal system. 


Its objective is to bring a cease-fire that may be indefinite or for a specified time period only.  


Belligerent Status

Without belligerent status, a government is not bound to treat insurgents according to the law of international armed conflicts. 

Blockade as an Act of War

The term today is frequently applied to maritime operations undertaken at the behest of the UN Security Council. 


Carpet or Area Bombing

Air attacks on a city that treat it as a single military objective instead of clearly distinguishing military objectives and areas 

Civil Wars

The most important rules that apply to all parties to internal armed conflicts 

Civilian Immunity

Civilians and civilian objects are protected under the laws of armed conflict by the principle of distinction. 

Collateral Damage

Constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians, and civilian objects. 

Combatant Status

During an armed conflict, only “combatants” are permitted to “take a direct part in hostilities.”  

Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions

Each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions. 

Crimes Against Humanity

Includes murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts 

Crimes against Peace

As described by the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946, they are “the supreme international crime." 

Customary Law

Customary law is one of the principal sources or components of international humanitarian law. 

Customary Law: The ICRC Study

The customary law of armed conflict summarized into 161 rules 


Dead and Wounded

Parties must “search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.” 

Death Squads

The laws of armed conflict prohibit executions without a fair trial. 

Detention and Interrogation

The legality of the secret prisons under international law is highly questionable. 

Due Process Rights

No one may be convicted or sentenced unless he has received a fair trial. 


Evacuation of Civilians from the Battlefield

It's the soldier's and civilian's responsibility, but it's not compulsory. 



Genocide is a crime the ICC has jurisdiction over, but its prosecutor has yet to publicly indict any defendants. 

Gray Areas in International Humanitarian Law

Conflicts between government and rebel forces can be governed by three sets of rules. 



A soldier's card must include the person's name, rank, identifying number and date of birth. 

International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commissions

In place since 1991, it is at the disposition of parties to armed conflicts. 

International vs. Internal Armed Conflict

Only basic protections are provided for civil war violations in the Geneva Conventions. 

Intervention, Right of

Law and interference are fundamentally opposed: If there’s law, then it is not intervention. 


A combatant who belongs to a paramilitary group, militia, volunteer corps, organized resistance movement, or rebel force 


Jurisdiction, Universal

Every State is under the legal obligation to search for and prosecute those in their territory suspected of war crimes. 

Jus ad Bellum / Jus in Bello

Under international law, the two distinct ways of looking at war are the reasons you fight and how you fight. 

Just and Unjust War

There must be a just cause and right authority to initiate war. 


Levée en Masse

Mass uprisings must be distinguished under the laws of war from an insurrection by a people against its own national government.  


International humanitarian law (IHL), codified after World War II in the Geneva Conventions, establishes rules for the conduct of armed conflicts and authorizes individual criminal liability for violations. IHL is intended to deter and prevent the unnecessary suffering and damage that results from serious IHL violations, commonly called war crimes. The "Crime Articles" illustrate violations of the laws of war with concrete example from recent armed conflicts.


Biological Experiments

The use of “bacteriological methods of warfare” has been banned under international law since 1925. 

Biological Weapons

Given the right technological expertise biological weapons are cheaper and easier to produce than nuclear weapons. 


Chemical Weapons

By the 1925 Geneva Protocol, countries can develop and stockpile chemical weapons for “defensive” purposes. 

Child Soldiers

Children as young as 8 are being forcibly recruited, coerced and induced to become combatants. 

Children as Killers

Many watched their parents be murdered or were forced to kill their loved ones as some sort of perverse initiation rite.  

Civilians, Illegal Targeting of

The civilian population as well as individual civilians shall not be the object of attack. 

Collective Punishment

The drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and II.  

Command Responsibility

Can obedience to superior orders be a defense against allegations of war crimes? 

Compelling Military Service

Prisoners, whether POWs or enemy civilians, cannot be forced to serve in military operations. 

Concentration Camps

The laws address the topic piecemeal, and the principal element is unlawful confinement.  

Cultural Property and Historical Monuments

The Nuremberg Trials after World War II marked the first time that individuals were held accountable for cultural war crimes.  


Dangerous Forces: Dams, Dikes, and Nuclear Stations

The traditional laws and customs of war allow the destruction of dams and dikes to stop an enemy’s advance. 


If there is enormous loss of life, deportation may constitute genocide. 


It often involves torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, and too commonly it involves murder. 

Due Process

No one may be convicted or sentenced unless he has received a fair trial.  


Environmental Warfare

In war, the protection of the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage is legally ambiguous. 

Ethnic Cleansing

The use of force or intimidation to remove people of a certain ethnic or religious group from an area 

Executions, Extrajudicial

Even if it's unclear whether a situation is an armed conflict, human rights law forbids extrajudicial executions.  


Forced Labor

Unlike slavery, forced labor includes no claim of permanent right of ownership over a person subject to it.  

Free Fire Zones

My Lai was perhaps the most infamous, if not necessarily the most egregious. 


Hors de Combat

Those who are "out of combat" are entitled to be protected, not attacked, and treated humanely. 


Hospitals have a special protected status under international humanitarian law. 


Civilians may not be taken hostage during times of war. 

Humanitarian Aid, Blocking of

Humanitarian aid is supposed to be beyond the politics of the war. 


Illegal or Prohibited Acts

Parties to a conflict are responsible for all violations of international humanitarian law. 

Immunity from Attack

Certain people and places should be protected and respected during wartime. 

Imprisonment of Civilian Population

Imprisonment is in violation of the fundamental rules of international law. 

Incitement to Genocide

Direct and public incitement to commit genocide is punishable. 

Indiscriminate Attack

Both sides must distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and direct their operations only against military objectives. 

Internal Displacement

Individual or mass forcible transfers are prohibited, regardless of their motive. 


Mass Graves

Prisoners of war must be "honorably buried" in graves that bear information about them. 

Medical Experiments on POWs

Subjecting prisoners to physical mutilation or scientific experiments is a grave breach. 

Medico-Legal Investigations of War Crimes

Investigators should follow the “Minnesota Protocol,” adopted by the UN in 1992.  




Lubanga Denies War Crimes in First ICC Trial

January 27, 2009

The former Congolese militia leader pleads not guilty to charges of using child soldiers.

Sierra Leone Rebels Guilty of Crimes against Humanity

February 26, 2009

As the country takes steps toward justice, rebel army officials are convicted of war crimes.

The ICC, Bashir, and the Immunity of Heads of State

March 19, 2009

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.


Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal: First Trial Begins

January 17, 2009

In January 1979, Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia’s deserted capital and came across a disturbing discovery at a site known as Tuol Sleng.

Thousands Flee to Safety in Sri Lanka as Government Closes in on Rebels

February 16, 2009

The UN has condemned a Tamil Tiger suicide attack at a registration center for civilians fleeing the fighting in northern Sri Lanka.

The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about US War Crimes in Vietnam

March 17, 2009

A letter from Robert Froehlke, secretary of the Army in the early 1970s, arrived in my mailbox a few weeks after the release of my book on U.S. war crimes in Vietnam last year.


Former ICTY Official Found Guilty of Contempt

September 17, 2009

The French journalist was convicted of disclosing the contents and effect of two confidential Appeals Chamber decisions in the Milosevic case.

Karadžic Genocide Trial Begins

October 27, 2009

One key concern for the Tribunal will be to avoid a repeat of the most criticized aspects of the Miloševic trial.

Middle East

Are Israel and Hamas Committing War Crimes in Gaza?

January 07, 2009

European leaders have suggested that Israel is guilty of using disproportionate force against Gaza.

The Gaza War: An Update

January 14, 2009

Some say the white phosphorus smokescreens are being used by Israeli forces in a manner contravening IHL.

Will Anyone Be Held Accountable for War Crimes in Gaza?

February 03, 2009

Since the fighting in Gaza ended, a growing chorus of voices has called for an investigation into war crimes.

North America

President Obama Starts to Take Apart the 'War on Terror'

February 23, 2009

Obama is undoing the most criticized aspects of the counter-terrorism policy of the Bush administration.

Torture Memos Released as Bush Six Face Spanish Indictment

April 23, 2009

The memos describe the harsh interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration.

Spanish Judge Begins Inquiry into 'Systematic' Guantanamo Torture

May 05, 2009

Baltasar Garzón continues his quest to keep U.S. officials accountable for acts of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Russia / CIS

EU Report Targets Both Sides in Georgia-Russia Conflict

October 14, 2009

The report appears to have answered the question of which side started the war.

South America

Former Peruvian President Guilty of Dirty War Crimes

April 16, 2009

The democratically elected Latin American leader is sentenced to 25 years in prison.




Counter Terrorism

Targeted Killings and the Al-Aulaqi Case

November 01, 2010

Some condemn targeted killing as extra-judicial execution, while others accept it as a legitimate method of warfare against terrorists.

The Killing of Osama Bin Laden

August 11, 2011

Was the assassination of the al-Qaeda chief lawful?


Bangladesh: A Free and Fair War Crimes Tribunal?

August 26, 2010

Though the tribunal has been welcomed in Bangladesh, serious concerns have about its trial standards remain.

Cambodia: What Next for the Extraordinary Chambers?

October 29, 2010

One of the many challenges facing the tribunal is managing expectations of what it can and should achieve.

Targeted Killings and the Al-Aulaqi Case

November 01, 2010

Some condemn targeted killing as extra-judicial execution, while others accept it as a legitimate method of warfare against terrorists.


Targeted Killings and the Al-Aulaqi Case

November 01, 2010

Some condemn targeted killing as extra-judicial execution, while others accept it as a legitimate method of warfare against terrorists.