International Humanitarian Law

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The International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as Laws of Armed Conflict is a law of war which restrains the effect, system and manner of warfare on people and property as well as to protect persons who are not participating in the hostilities.

IHL is part of the international law which embodies the rules which directs the relations between States. It includes agreements between States through treaties and conventions which are considered as legally binding. IHL applies to armed conflicts which does not use force, instead is implemented under the United Nations Charter.


Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention and their Additional Protocols are considered the core of the International Humanitarian Law. It contains the most important rules of warfare and have been acceded to by 194 States and enjoy universal acceptance.

In 1864,the Geneva Convention primarily dealt with wounded soldiers and later adapted to cover warfare at sea and prisoners of war. In 1949, the Convention was revised and expanded:

  • 1st Convention - wounded soldiers on the battlefield
  • 2nd Convention - wounded and shipwrecked at sea
  • 3rd Convention - prisoners of war
  • 4th Convention - civilians under enemy control

Two Additional Protocols were added in 1977:

  • 1st Protocol - international conflicts
  • 2nd Protocol - non-international conflicts

In 2005 Additional Protocol III was adopted:

  • 3rd Protocol - additional distinctive emblem


IHL applies only to armed conflict and does not apply to internal isolated acts of violence. It applies only when the conflict has begun and equally to all sides regardless who started the conflict or disturbance. It also distinguishes between international and non-international armed conflicts. International Armed Conflicts are those in which at least two States are involved. They are accountable to a wide range of rules including those set out in the four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. Non-international Armed Conflict on the other hand, are those restricted to the territory of a single State involving either regular armed forces or armed groups fighting each other. There is a limited range of rules compared to the international armed conflict.


There are two areas which IHL covers:

  • It gives protection to those who are not or no longer taking part in the fighting, including civilians, religious and military personnel. It also protects those who have ceased to take part such as, the wounded, shipwrecked, the sick and prisoners of war. These category of person are entitled to respect for their lives, and for their physical and mental integrity. They must be protected and treated humanely in all conditions without adverse distinction.

It is also forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who is wounded or unable to fight, instead the sick and wounded must be cared for the party in whose power they find themselves.

  • Restrictions on the means of warfare including methods and military tactics.

In the Philippines

The Philippine National Red Cross was created to be the voluntary organization officially designated to assist the Philippine government in discharging its obligations set forth in the Geneva Conventions.

The Quezon City Red Cross actively promotes the principles of the International Red Cross and the International Humanitarian Law through dissemination activities in different barangays, schools and to the Quezon City Police District.


International Humanitarian Law Day was set every 12th of August each year by virtue of Executive Order 134 from 1999 to commemorate the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions to which it is based, signed by former president Joseph Estrada. Various activities are undertaken to promote the principles of IHL.

External Link




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