LAWS3181/JURD7381 International Humanitarian Law

Lecturer: Sarah Williams

What is the course about?
The course explores the laws that regulate the conduct of hostilities with the aim of protecting the victims of armed conflict. We consider the historical foundations, treaty regimes and extensive body of customary law that applies to armed conflicts today. The course also explores the relationship with IHL and other bodies of international law such as Human Rights Law and the law regulating the use of force by states.

Why does the subject interest you?
IHL is fascinating because it takes a pragmatic and surprisingly effective approach to try to reduce suffering of those affected by war. The law is underpinned by a few simple principles that form the basis of a complex and detailed treaty regime. The course examines real world conflicts and how the law influences the conduct of various actors, from armed forces and non-state armed group through to the United Nations. As one leading scholar has said, IHL is at the ‘vanishing point’ of international law. It seeks to regulate an aspect of human behavior which might seem a bit crazy to try to regulate but where regulation is desperately needed.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in the course?
This course emphasises the link between the law and its application. Rather than just a series of lectures, the course includes a lot of practical problem solving and group work where we apply the law to real-world scenarios and armed conflict situations. We also have a number of guest speakers who talk about their experiences protecting the victims of armed conflict and working in areas directed at IHL enforcement. While it would help to have a general background in public international law, it is not a prerequisite.

How will this course be relevant in the future?
IHL will continue to be relevant as long as there is war and people want to reduce its catastrophic effects. It is a central branch of international law and regularly features in diplomatic interactions, UN proceedings and treaty negotiations. Furthermore, IHL provides the substantive foundation for many of the war crimes being prosecuted in international criminal tribunals around the world.