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Customary and International Laws of War

International humanitarian law governs the code of conduct regarding the armed conflict. The law, also called the rules of the war, determines what can and cannot be done in instances where armed conflict arises. It is present to reduce suffering, save lives and maintain the most humanity possible in armed conflicts. The law regulates war ethics by attempting to limit suffering and weaken the adversary (Solis, 2021). The most significant aspect of international humanitarian law is that all one hundred and ninety-six states have ratified it, making it universal. Any party fighting a war must respect the rules of war regardless of whether it is a state or non-state group. If they disregard these laws, they are liable for prosecution by states and international courts investigating war crimes and prosecuting the perpetrators.

The Geneva Conventions, which were first implemented in the 19th century, form an integral part of the International Laws of War. These conventions protect the people not involved in armed conflict by limiting the tactics and weapons that fighting parties can use (Sassòli, 2019). These limits go a long way in curbing brutality and preventing excessive harm to non-fighting parties in armed conflict. For instance, in 2014, the IHL was invoked to allow civilians caught up in the conflict in South Sudan to get to safety. In international and domestic courts, IHL helps the prosecution determine if a state or non-state militia is guilty of war crimes (Longobardo, 2019).

The investigation process for the prosecution of militia groups accused of breaching IHL is governed by the Geneva Conventions. The conventions dictate that countries must investigate any parties accused of violating the IHL by individuals, observers, groups or countries. One such case is the punishment of the war criminals accused of committing mass crimes against civilians and breaching the IHL during the late twentieth-century Bosnian war. The conventions also allow the U.N. Security Council to impose necessary restrictions and sanctions to promote the observance of IHL among warring parties. These sanctions include trade bans, an arms embargo and travel bans. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is charged with guarding the IHL laws (Sassòli, 2019). It tracks how warfare evolves, making necessary recommendations so that the rules of law can be updated to suit the modern conflict environment.

Although there are numerous rules of war within the Geneva Conventions, several fundamental principles are essential to the ongoing world conflicts. The first is that warring parties must not target civilians. The definition of civilians in this context goes beyond people not involved in the war to their infrastructure, which includes houses, schools, sanitation and water facilities and hospitals (Gleick, 2019). Warring parties are not allowed to torture any of their detainees or subject them to inhumane treatment. Instead, their dignity and human rights should be upheld, meaning they must be given decent shelter, food and water, allowed to communicate with their loved ones and protected from violence (Davison, 2018). Warring parties should not attack aid workers and should allow humanitarian organizations to access war zones and offer help where needed.


Davison, Neil. “A legal perspective: Autonomous weapon systems under international humanitarian law.” (2018): 5-18.

Gleick, Peter H. “Water as a weapon and casualty of conflict: freshwater and international humanitarian law.” Water Resources Management 33, no. 5 (2019): 1737-1751.

Sassòli, Marco. International humanitarian law: Rules, controversies, and solutions to problems arising in warfare. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019.

Solis, Gary D. The law of armed conflict: international humanitarian law in war. Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Longobardo, Marco. “The relevance of the concept of due diligence for international humanitarian law.” Wis. Int’l L.J. 37 (2019): 44.


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