In the post 9-11 world, it is difficult to imagine how human rights law and humanitarian law were ever seen as distinctly different bodies of international law.
International human rights law (IHRL) is anchored by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two human rights Covenants — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Gross violations of human rights include, for example, a consistent pattern of torture, unfair trials, enforced disappearance and political assassinations outside the context of war.
International humanitarian law (IHL) is the body of customary and treaty law that defines the conduct and responsibility of nations at war, relative to each other and to civilians. It includes most prominently the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions, but also the 1997 Landmine Treaty. IHL protects civilians in conflict zones and it prohibits torture and degrading treatment of captured combatants. The notion of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” were inserted in the human rights lexicon via IHL.
From today’s vantage the two bodies of law appear inextricably linked; human rights organizations draw on them freely, as best suits the context. That has not always been the case, however. Amnesty International did not regularly use IHL in its appeals until the early 1990s because the organization’s work was focused primarily on prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their beliefs. Its work on broader issues (such as torture and disappearance), extended from this prisoner-based approach. Ken Roth explains why Human Rights Watch began to base its advocacy arguments on humanitarian law in the early 1980s, and he recounts conversations from that period between Amnesty International and the Watch Committees. As ethnic conflict and low-intensity warfare in the 1990s blurred the lines between conflict and peacetime conditions, AI and other human rights groups joined Human Rights Watch in referring to IHL standards. Today human rights groups frequently take note of conditions of occupation, treatment of civilians, conscription of children, and the use of indiscriminate weapons as they denounce human rights atrocities.
Provisions of IHL have informed a number of human rights initiatives over the past two decades, including the establishment of an International Criminal Court (1998), a Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child limiting the active involvement of children under 18 in armed conflict (2000), a 2008 treaty to prohibit Cluster Munitions, and efforts to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (2013) — as well as the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (known more informally as the Landmine Treaty).
International Standards – Treaties and other Human Rights Instruments
- Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The Core International Human Rights Treaties and their Monitoring Bodies.”
- Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Universal Human Rights Instruments.”
- UN Treaty Collection. Human Rights. (Note: This official site contains a comprehensive list of global human rights treaties, with continuously updated information about the status, including date of entry into force, state ratifications and reservations.)
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary Rules of IHL.
- United Nations. “Geneva Conventions, Common Article 3.”
- Factsheets on International Humanitarian Law (International Committee of the Red Cross)
- ICRC Factsheet, “What Are the Essential Rules of International Humanitarian Law?“
- ICRC Factsheet, “What Is International Humanitarian Law?“
- ICRC Factsheet, “Basic Rules of International Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflict.”
Mechanisms for Implementation of Legal Standards and International Policy
- International Committee of the Red Cross.“Improving Compliance with International Humanitarian Law – ICRC Expert Seminar.” 2008.
Reports and Analysis by NGOs, IGOs, Policy Centers and Governments
- International Committee of the Red Cross, “Respect for IHL.”
- For reports on other current topics, see ICRC Website section on Contemporary Challenges for IHL.
- Cameron, Maxwell A., Robert J. Lawson, and Brian W. Tomlin, To Walk Without Fear: The Global Movement to Ban Landmines. Oxford University Press, 1998.
- International Review of the Red Cross. (Note: serial publication, includes scholarly articles on a range of issues pertaining to IHL. Current and past issues available.)
- Sigal, Leon V. Negotiating Minefields: The Landmines Ban in American Politics. NY: Routledge, 2006. (Note: Focuses on considerations in US.)
- Steiner, Henry J. and Philip A. Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford University Press, 2008. (Note: See pp. 61-84 on Laws of War and Customary International Law.)
Advocacy Groups and Training Tools
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines
- Child Soldiers International (formerly, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers)
Case Studies and Examples
- International Committee of the Red Cross. “How Does Law Protect in War? Cases, Documents and Teaching Materials on Contemporary Practice in International Humanitarian Law.” 2011.
- Hubert, Don, “Occasional Paper #42, The Landmine Ban: A Case Study in Humanitarian Advocacy.” Providence: Brown University, 2000.
Multimedia Sources, including Film
- International Committee of the Red Cross. Words of Warriors  Video, 30 minutes. Shorter segments available as video clips.
- International Committee of the Red Cross. “International Humanitarian Law: A Universal Code,” 2009. Video clip. YouTube.
- “Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: Conflict or Convergence?”  Video clip. YouTube. (Note: Podcast from Case Western Reserve Law School, Klatsky Seminar in Human Rights by Sir Cristopher Greenwood, ICJ Judge.)
- International Committee of the Red Cross. “The Story of An Idea”  Video clip. YouTube.
- International Committee of the Red Cross. “The Story of An Idea: The Books Animation.” Video clip. YouTube.