International Humanitarian Law

The Irish Red Cross plays an important role in raising awareness and understanding of international humanitarian law (IHL) in order to promote respect for it. IHL is relevant to everyone.

The idea of IHL is simple: even wars have limits.

IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons to limit the effects of armed conflict on people and objects.  Also known as the law of war or law of armed conflict, IHL protects certain categories of people in times of war and restricts the methods and means of warfare.  IHL applies only to armed conflicts and does not regulate whether force may be used.  Some of the best-known IHL treaties are the Geneva Conventions , the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction).

Protecting people

IHL protects people who are not or no longer taking part in the fighting, such as civilians, the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, prisoners of war, detainees, and military medical and religious personnel.  These people are entitled to respect for their lives, and parties to a conflict must provide them with assistance and treat them humanely at all times and without discrimination.

Protecting objects

IHL protects objects such as hospitals, ambulances and significant pieces of cultural property including places of worship, works of art and historic monuments.  Under IHL it is also prohibited to destroy infrastructure necessary for the survival of the civilian population (such as drinking water supplies) and work containing dangerous forces (such as nuclear power stations or dams).

Limiting weapons and tactics

IHL limits the type of weapons and military tactics that can be used during armed conflict.  It is prohibited to use weapons or methods of warfare which do not distinguish between those taking part in the fighting (combatants) and those who are not.  IHL does not allow the use of weapons that cause the most appalling or unnecessary suffering, and it prohibits tactics that cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment.

194 states , including Ireland, have ratified (agreed to be bound by) the four Geneva Conventions.