The rules regulating the conduct of hostilities are central to the framework of international humanitarian law (IHL). This highly articulated set of rules, found in both treaty and customary law, establishes the parameters by which adversaries must conduct their operations. These rules aim to limit the effects of hostilities, and are critical to the protection of civilians during armed conflict. Implicit in each rule is a balancing of the humanitarian imperative and military necessity.

This session provided a brief introduction to the basic rules of conduct of hostilities, offering participants the opportunity to learn about the relationship between the principles of distinction and proportionality, the rules regarding precautionary measures, and the prohibition of superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering. The definition of a military objective was covered, as well as the conditions under which damage to civilian objects or injury or death to civilians may not be unlawful under IHL in certain circumstances.

This session on the basics of conduct of hostilities was followed later in 2015 by a series of more advanced sessions focusing in greater depth on a number of related issues and challenges, including so-called "targeted killings" and direct participation in hostilities by civilians.


Colonel (Retired) Richard B. Colonel (Retired) Richard B. "Dick" Jackson is the Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters. He has served in that position since 2005, when he retired from the U.S. Army after over 30 years in uniform. Dick Jackson has extensive experience in the law of war and international and operational law, in general. He served in Infantry, Special Forces, Joint and Coalition commands during his military career, spending most of the last ten years as the principal legal advisor at a U.S. Army Division, Multinational Division North in Bosnia, the Army Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Pacific, and Joint Forces Command - Naples, a NATO Headquarters. He served in military operations in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. He was also the Chair of the International and Operational Law Department of the Army Judge Advocate General's School, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has written extensively in professional publications and lectured around the world on law of war matters. Colonel Jackson also represented the U.S. government in several international conferences and negotiations regarding arms control, the law of war, and protection of cultural property. In 2010 he was elected to be the Chair of the Lieber Society Interest Group of the American Society of International Law, which is a private organization promoting dissemination and discussion between practicioners and academics on the law of armed conflict. Along with numerous law review articles, Dick Jackson is a contributing author to: The War on Terror and the Laws of War, published by Oxford University Press in 2009; The Law of Counterterrorism, published by the ABA in 2011; and the Aspen casebook, The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach, published in 2012.


Elizabeth Holland Elizabeth Holland Consulting Expert on International Humanitarian Law, International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)


Session recording (YouTube - faster loading time)

Session recording (Adobe Connect - higher quality)

You can access a recording of the learning session by clicking on the image below. Note that the recordings do not include the Q&A section of the sessions.

Session recording - Downloadable audio podcast

Prerequisite knowledge

It is recommended to have followed the following online learning sessions are recommended (recordings available):

1. Introduction to IHL and its relevance for humanitarian actors

2. IHL and Core Humanitarian Principles: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence

PHAP members are also recommended to follow the PHAP Online Course on Essentials of International Humanitarian Law, in particular the module on the Core Principles of International Humanitarian Law.

Recommended readings

For participants wishing to prepare in advance for the event, we recommend the following resources:

Learning objectives

  • Recognition that IHL aims to limit the effects of hostilities for those who do not participate or no longer participate in hostilities
  • Appreciation of the balance between the humanitarian imperative and military necessity that undergirds the rules regulating hostilities
  • Understanding of the definition of military objective
  • Familiarity with the principles of distinction and proportionality
  • Awareness of the rules regarding precautionary measures and prohibition of superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering

Target audience

Humanitarian practitioners as well as others with a professional or general interest in humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict.


PHAP members have the possibility to undergo a two-part assessment after the session as part of the PHAP Continuous Learning Credits framework.

Part 1: Comprehension check

Part 2: Written reflection

To encourage peer learning among members, selected essay responses will also be published on the website, if approved by the writer. As a member, you can comment on the responses and read other members' comments.

Read the written reflections

PHAP Credentialing Program

PHAP Credentialing Program

International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action

This event will help you prepare for the PHAP Credentialing Program certification in International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action.

In particular, the event will address segments 3.2 and 3.5 of the certification assessment outline.

Read more about the PHAP Credentialing Program