The subset of international law relating to the conduct of war – known as international humanitarian law (IHL) or the law of armed conflict – plays a prominent role in contemporary debates about law and political violence across the world from Colombia to Chechnya, from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay. The institutions, discourses and practices associated with IHL help shape contemporary debates about the use of force, provide a powerful language of legitimacy and de-legitimization, and structure decisions that may have crucial effects on international order and international human rights.
This seminar has two goals: first, to provide a basic introduction to IHL and second to explore some of the recurring and seemingly intractable problems that arise in the contemporary theory and practice of IHL, particularly in the post-September 11th context. Topics covered will include: international principles and rules governing the conduct of international and other armed conflict; the complementary nature of IHL and human rights law; the protections afforded by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols to combatants and noncombatants, including civilians and POWs; the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross; key decisions of international bodies regarding accountability for violations of IHL; the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, especially in light of the current engagement in Libya; and the transformation of the theory and practice of IHL under the pressure of (the) contemporary war(s) on terror. A background in or familiarity with public international law and/or international human rights is helpful, but not necessary, to participate in the seminar.