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The connection between International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a complex subject that is continuously debated in the legal sphere. The history of these laws reveals that they were developed separately from each other, with IHL growing out of past military conflicts and IHRL being traced back to ancient times (“Human Rights & Humanitarian Law”). Nonetheless, one cannot say that these sets of regulations can be viewed as strictly separate entities since both of them cover the fundamental rights of human beings. Therefore, there arises a need to discuss what differences and similarities do IHRL and IHL possess as well as what points of conflict are vital to consider.
Conflict or Convergence
First of all, the main features of both laws can be pointed out. IHRL is a set of rules that cover the rights of all people at all times. It is based on humane principles such as the right to live and the protection from harm (International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], International Humanitarian Law 1). IHRL has to be followed during peaceful times and war with few exceptions. On the other hand, IHL is active only during times of armed conflict (ICRC, What Is International Humanitarian Law? 1). Here one can see the main difference between these laws and the first arising conflict – which set of rules is to be considered primary is a conflict situation.
It can be noted, nonetheless, that IHRL does not fully contradict IHL in its goal of protecting human lives. In times of conflict, States can “derogate from certain rights in situations of public emergency threatening the life of the nation” (ICRC, International Humanitarian Law 1). Thus, the use of IHL, which still emphasizes the humane treatment of people not involved in military action, is not contradictory to the guidelines of IHRL. Another problem lies in the fact that IHL does not cover all persons, only limiting the protections to civilians, wounded and sick persons, and prisoners of war (ICRC, What Is International Humanitarian Law? 2). Here, one may say that IHRL comes into conflict with IHL in its belief that all persons should have a right to live, including those who are involved in a conflict.
Furthermore, IHL limits only the use of weapons that lead to excessive injury and suffering. It also does not prohibit taking prisoners of war during a conflict, provided that they are treated with respect (ICRC, International Humanitarian Law 2). In this case, one may argue that IHRL is not followed, as all weapons potentially endanger people’s lives and the freedom of war prisoners is restricted. This is another concern that may be resolved with the idea that IHRL allows for certain rules to be breached if the safety of the nation is at risk. The main factor that should be accounted for is the extent to which the guidelines can be ignored – the actions of governments have to be a balanced response to the possible danger.
All in all, the development of IHRL and IHL shows that the laws are not mutually exclusive. The two systems should be viewed as two parts of the whole. While their contents can create some conflicts and show discrepancies, the target to upheld civilized behaviors remains the foundation of all legal systems. The restrictions of IHRL do not completely override the IHL principles but call some of the actions allowed by Humanitarian Law during wartime into question.
“Human Rights & Humanitarian Law – Conflict or Convergence.” YouTube, uploaded by Case Western Reserve University School of Law. 2010. Web.
International Committee of the Red Cross. International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law: Similarities and Differences. 2003. Web.
—. What Is International Humanitarian Law? 2010. Web.