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International Humanitarian Law Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2019

International humanitarian law (IHL) is supposed to reduce the disastrous effects of military conflicts. In particular, it is critical to protect people who do not take part in violent confrontations. There have been many developments in IHL; for instance, one can speak about various treaties and agreements signed by the governments of various countries.

Yet, there are many examples showing that the principles imbedded in IHL can be easily violated. So, it is important to explain this paradox. In this case, it is vital to focus on the failure to enforce the principles of IHL and greater media coverage of war brutalities.

At first, one should mention that it may be difficult to implement the principles of IHL. The cooperation of different countries is important for achieving this goal. For instance, one can speak about the five members of the Security Council.

In many cases, these countries have conflicting interests, and each of them has a right to prohibit any form of intervention into a country in which human rights of non-combatants may be violated (Schweigman 2001, p. 293). For instance, the intervention into Syria was blocked by Russia and China, even though the rights of non-combatants were brutally violated by each of the sides.

Additionally, the decision-making in international organisations is very slow, and very often they choose to enforce the principles of IHL only when they have clear evidence of human rights violations. Very often, they respond when it is too late. The most striking example of this problem is the genocide in Rwanda.

Peacekeeping organisations knew that the government controlled by Hutu openly advocated the idea of violence against Tutsi (Cook 2004, p. 296). However, they did not take any actions to avert this catastrophe. This is one of the most notorious cases that can be identified.

Apart from that, much attention should be paid to behavior of military groups during conflicts. Combatants are often convinced that they are fighting for a just cause. Moreover, in their opinion, this just cause can legitimise every form of violence against civilian population or captives (Schindler 2003, p. 184). The key problem is that this behavior completely undermines their claims about the noble nature of their actions.

This argument is particularly relevant to those cases when military conflicts involve fundamentalist religious groups. People, who belong to these groups, may believe that their acts of violence signify their devotion to God. Such conflicts become more frequent, especially in the Middle East.

Moreover, researchers argue that many people, who live in war-ridden countries, do not know about international treaties such as the Geneva Convention (Schindler 2003, p. 185). This is one of the problems that should be taken into account.

There is another factor that should be mentioned. Very often private military companies take part in the conflicts between or within states. In many cases, these agents are less willing to comply with the principles of IHL. Moreover, it may be difficult to persecute these organisations (Griffin & Cali 2010, p. 254). Additionally, one should remember that some countries have not ratified certain documents which form the basis of IHL.

For instance, Saudi Arabia did ratify the Declaration of Human Rights. Apart from that, the governments of some countries believe that any form of humanitarian intervention is the intrusion into the internal policies of the state (International Committee of the Red Cross 2011, p. 23). As a result, people, who are involuntarily involved in military conflicts, become exposed to greater threats.

So, it is quite possible to develop norms that can reduce the impact of armed conflicts. However, if there are no mechanisms for enforcing these rules, their value will considerably diminish. At the national level, the state can enforce the rules accepted by community members, but one cannot achieve this goal at the international level, because there is no single arbiter.

Furthermore, one should keep in mind that the violations of IHL are better reported nowadays. For instance, much attention should be paid to the development of mobile technologies which enable people to share videos and photographs. Therefore, one can gather evidence indicating that fighting groups often violate the rights of non-combatants.

These technologies were not available in the first half of the twentieth century, and many violations could simply go unnoticed. Additionally, journalists can better raise people’s awareness about the brutality of war. So, it is not possible to speak only about the inefficiencies of international organisations.

Overall, this discussion shows that the increasing number of IHL violations can be attributed to several factors. Admittedly, much attention should be paid to the ineffectiveness of international institutions that are supposed to protect non-combatant citizens from harm.

Furthermore, it may be difficult to enforce international norms due to the conflicting interests of the most advanced countries. Finally, one should keep in mind that modern media contribute to the improved reporting of IHL violations. So, contemporary policy-makers better understand the inefficiencies of existing mechanisms that should ensure the functioning of IHL.


Cook, S 2004, Genocide in Cambodia And Rwanda: New Perspectives, Transaction Publishers, New York.

Griffin, E & Cali, B 2010, ‘International Humanitarian Law’, In B. Cali (ed), International Law for International Relations, OUP Oxford, Oxford, pp. 234-258.

International Committee of the Red Cross 2011, . Web.

Schindler, D 2003, ‘International Humanitarian Law: Its Remarkable Development and its Persistent Violation’, Journal of the History of International Law, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 165-188.

Schweigman, D 2001, The Authority of the Security Council Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter: Legal Limits and the Role of the International Court of Justice, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, New York.

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