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 8: Liability of individuals

Jonathan Crowe and Kylie Weston-Scheuber

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


The previous chapter examined the ways in which states and non-state groups may be held responsible for violations of international humanitarian law. This chapter, by contrast, is concerned with the criminal responsibility of individuals for breaches of the law of armed conflict. There are some important historical and conceptual connections between international humanitarian law and international criminal law, but the two fields are far from synonymous. International crimes are not limited to violations of international humanitarian law, but also include acts such as genocide and crimes against humanity, which can be committed in either wartime or peacetime. Furthermore, not all violations of international humanitarian law give rise to individual criminal responsibility. This chapter begins by considering the historical evolution of international criminal law. We will see that important developments in international criminal law have often arisen in response to violations of international law committed during armed conflicts. International criminal law and international humanitarian law have therefore often developed in tandem. Notable examples include the tribunals established to try war criminals following the Second World War, as well as the ad hoc tribunals created in the wake of the Yugoslavian and Rwandan conflicts. We will then examine the various offences that give rise to individual responsibility under international law, before turning to the different forms of criminal responsibility and the rules governing criminal proceedings.

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