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International Humanitarian Law

International humanitarian law (IHL) refers to that set of codes, conventions, and treaties intended to govern the actions of states, armies, and individual combatants when they resort to force and engage in armed conflict—before, during, and afterward. Common synonyms for international humanitarian law are the laws of war (LOW) and the laws of armed conflict (LOAC).

Introduction of international humanitarian law may provoke initial confusion and skepticism. Confusion focuses on the key word humanitarian: what could possibly be considered humanitarian about war? Skepticism focuses on the key word law: can war ever be law governed—and should it be? Whenever interstate or intrastate conflict reaches the point that parties engage in armed violence, have we not moved from the realm of civilization into that of barbarism? The ...

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