International War: Hostilities Norms and Law


Limits on the way wars are waged have existed for hundreds of years. it had been often a matter of unwritten understandings on the way to behave, sometimes a reciprocal recognition of the truth of potential retaliation if certain limits were overstepped. On occasions, common humanity limited the impact of war.

Efforts by the international community to introduce effective legal limits on the conduct of war began seriously within the 19th century. Through a series of treaties like the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and therefore the growth of customary law, there’s now an in-depth body of law regulating the conduct of hostilities.

The general principles are enshrined within the Hague Convention of 1907 and therefore the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977. But there are a series of other treaties covering specific issues, particularly within the field of weapons. In 2005 the ICRC published a serious study on the extensive body of customary international humanitarian law, which is binding on all States.

The central principle of distinction runs through all the law concerning the conduct of hostilities. Indiscriminate action is prohibited. All sides during conflict must distinguish between legitimate military targets on the one hand and civilians and civilian objects on the opposite.

“Hague Law” and “Geneva Law”

International Humanitarian Law is usually weakened into two subcategories, mentioned as “Hague Law” and “Geneva Law”. This division reflects the event of IHL, with Hague Law (through The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907) regulating how armies should conduct themselves during hostilities, and therefore the Geneva Conventions regulating problems with protection and the way people in your power should be treated.

With the adoption of the extra Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, which incorporates extensive regulation of topics traditionally mentioned as Hague Law, the separation is a smaller amount relevant in today’s practice.

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and their annexed regulations are a group of conventions primarily regulating the conduct of hostilities. The Conventions represent the essential and commonly accepted rules of engagement – the legal framework covering the means and methods of warfare. While many of those rules are updated and improved, especially through the Fourth Geneva Convention and extra Protocols, they continue to be a key source of the law of nations, accepted universally as customary law of nations.

The IV Hague Convention is of particular importance during the occupation and sets out a definition of occupation which remains applicable to the present day. It also sets out a number of the key principles that regulate occupation: namely the requirement to make sure public order and civil life, and obligation to respect the personal property.

The Geneva Conventions: Historical: The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 represent the fundamental treaty text regulating issues of protection in situations of armed conflict. Whilst the Geneva Conventions were collectively codified in 1949, these protections built upon earlier conventions developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Except Common Article Three, the protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions are limited to international armed conflicts.

Conducting Hostilities

The Hague Conventions, concerning the conduct of hostilities, apply to the states that are party to it within the event of war, the varied Geneva Conventions of 1949 (and the 1977 Protocols to them) inherit operation, where there’s an armed conflict between two or more contracting parties albeit a state of war, isn’t recognized by one (or both) of them. They also apply to the occupation of another state’s territory albeit the occupation meets with no armed resistance. Since much of The Hague Conventions reflect the customary law of nations, it is often assumed that these laws of war also apply whether or not any declarations of war exist. In considering the legal conduct of a conflict, the laws of war take no account of its causes. this suggests that the combatants of the aggressor nation are owed an equivalent right as those of the attacked state.

The controls placed on the particular methods and means of war are to an outsized extent supported The Hague Conventions, but they’re also are a variety of important provisions within the first Protocol of 1977, the 1954 Hague Convention on cultural property, and therefore the 1981 Conventional Weapons Convention.

Lawful combatants

Those who may lawfully participate in hostilities are those that would be entitled to prisoner-of-war status if captured. the other person participating during conflict could also be treated as an unprivileged belligerent, or a franc-tireur, and he could also be punished if captured. Article 4 of the third Geneva Convention of 1949 and article 43 of the primary Protocol of 1977 provide that a lawful combatant is usually a member of the soldiers of a state. The term includes members of the merchant marine and inhabitant of an unoccupied territory who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces until the territory has been occupied.

Limits on the methods and means of war


Article 22 of the Regulations Annexed to The Hague Convention of 1907 states that “the right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy isn’t unlimited.” This particular principle underpins much of the law during this area, and there are many samples of it. Article 23 of an equivalent treaty, as an example, prohibits certain activities like the utilization of poison or poisoned weapons, killing or injuring enemy combatants treacherously, attacking those that have surrendered, or declaring that no quarter is going to be given. It also prohibits the utilization of arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. One reason for this approach, as stated within the Declaration of St. Petersburg, 1868, is that “the only legitimate object which states should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy.”


Limits on the conduct of hostilities under IHL also cover cultural property and therefore the environment. The targeting of cultural property or using it for military purposes is prohibited. action must not unnecessarily destroy the natural environment or create environmental problems for the longer term. Special references also are made to naval and air warfare and therefore the role of civil defence during armed conflict.

Regulations concerning the selection of weapons constitute a serious part of the law on the conduct of hostilities. Under IHL, this choice isn’t unlimited. IHL has outlawed specific sorts of weapons through a series of international treaties, especially biological and chemical weapons, blinding laser weapons and anti-personnel landmines. last, in 2008 the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted.

This Article is Authored by Sheetal Maan, 4th Year BA.LLB Student at Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology.

Also Read – Towards Uniform International Environment Treaty – Challenges After Paris Agreement

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