Principles of International Humanitarian Law

Principles of International Humanitarian Law

Jonathan Crowe and Kylie Weston-Scheuber

This book provides a clear and concise explanation of the central principles of international humanitarian law (or the law of armed conflict) while situating them in a broader philosophical, ethical and legal context.

Chapter 7: Liability of states and non-state groups

Jonathan Crowe and Kylie Weston-Scheuber

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


International law has traditionally been viewed as the body of law governing relations between states. For this reason, it commonly used to be called the law of nations. Nowadays, by contrast, there is an increasing emphasis on the place of individuals in international law. This shift in emphasis takes two main forms. First, as we saw in the previous chapter, international law increasingly places direct limits on how states can treat individuals and gives individuals standing to complain about breaches of their rights. Second, international law now imposes criminal liability upon individuals for violations of certain norms. We will examine this issue in greater depth in Chapter 8. The increasing focus that international law places on individuals is particularly evident in international humanitarian law (as well as its counterpart, international human rights law, which we examined in the last chapter). Contemporary international humanitarian law gives a significant place to individual criminal liability. Much publicity has been given in recent decades to the work of international criminal tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court, in pursuing violations of the international law of armed conflict.

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