Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Edited by Robert Kolb and Gloria Gaggioli

This fascinating Handbook explores the interplay between international human rights law and international humanitarian law, offering expert analysis on the increasingly complex issues surrounding their application in conflict areas across the world.
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Chapter 26: The International Committee of the Red Cross and human rights law

Godofredo Torreblanca


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), founded in 1863 by Henry Dunant in collaboration with four Swiss citizens and originally called International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, is considered the guardian of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) or the law of armed conflicts. In general its main tasks are to bring protection and assistance to the victims of these atrocious events. Nonetheless, IHL is not the only law applicable in this context and, on the other hand, the ICRC mandate also covers situations of internal violence that are under the threshold of an armed conflict. There is nowadays a common agreement that Human Rights Law (HRL) applies in peace and wartime. In the former case, its scope of application obviously includes situations of internal violence. This chapter attempts to scrutinise how the ICRC deals with this law in fulfilling its international mandate in either armed conflicts or situations of internal violence. More precisely, it looks at whether the ICRC can or should take HRL into account in performing its mandate; and secondly, how the ICRC makes use of this law in its day-to-day work. The first part of this chapter focuses briefly on the ICRC’s legal nature, some of its main features and its international mandate in case of armed conflicts or situations of internal violence. This part ends with a legal analysis of the ICRC’s competence in dealing with HRL. The second part presents the ICRC position vis-à-vis HRL from an historical perspective.

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