International humanitarian law (IHL)/Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC)

International humanitarian law (IHL) is also known as the law of armed conflict (LOAC) or the laws of war. IHL applies only in times of armed conflict, placing legal obligations on all warring parties. IHL norms are designed to put limits on the way belligerents conduct warfare. The main sources of IHL are the four Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols as well as customary law. The ICRC holds a specific mandate to promote the development of IHL. IHL contains limitations and prohibitions based on the fundamental norm of distinction between combatants and civilians, where only the former can be lawfully targeted. This core distinction yields key additional IHL rules, such as the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the prohibition of disproportionate attacks. IHL also aims at protecting certain categories of persons who do not, or no longer, take part in hostilities such as prisoners of war and civilians, and provide for the special protections of certain persons and objects, such as medical personnel, hospitals, cultural objects (e.g., mosques, churches) and objects essential to the survival of the civilian population (e.g., crops, water sources).

Civilians evacuating destroyed area

Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

Key actors

Guardian and promoter of international humanitarian law, and provides assistance and protection for victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence

Key references

A reference for humanitarian practitioners, organized by topic

An introductory handbook on IHL, in line with the ICRC's reading of the law

PHAP certifications

Certification badge for International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action (ILFHA)

Knowledge about IHL/LOAC for humanitarian actors is covered by the International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action (ILFHA) certification (competency domain 3).

Latest content

Applicability of Additional Protocol I in different types of conflict (2/27/2019)

/images/experts/BoutrucheTheo500.jpg Théo Boutruche

Community update: Cultural heritage (1954 Hague Convention, add. protection designations, etc.) (1/10/2019)

/images/experts/JacksonRichard250.jpg Dick Jackson

Learning resources

Online course offering brief introductory modules related to different aspects of IHL

Recordings of regular series of webinars on legal frameworks applicable to humanitarian action, with a particular focus on IHL

Latest discussions