Home Blog Introduction to International Humanitarian Law: Analysis of Protection of People in War

Introduction to International Humanitarian Law: Analysis of Protection of People in War

Author- Ms. Chandni Hariramani, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Kalinga University, Naya Raipur

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Law is essentially used to govern the society that we live in and majorly derives its source from customs which is also known as the earliest sources of law.  Customs have gain wide acceptance in the society as they are the practices that have existed since centuries and have continued to exist even when the societal structure witnessed changes constantly.

Another segment of law that has developed over a period of time and derives its power from customary principles and practices is International Law. In “Queen v. Keyn,[1] Lord Coleridge, C.J. defined international law as: The law of nations is the collection of usages which civilized States have agreed to observe in their dealings with one another.”[2]

Since International Law is a result of customs and usages that are accepted by the states at large, it is expected that they will observe the rules in their conduct individually and in their relations with each other. One such principle which, in the context of states, forms a significant part of international Law is “Protection of People in warfare”, which implies that any person who has surrendered or those who have no relation to the conflict meaning:

(a)    civilians or

(b)   People providing medical assistance during the conflict

Should not be subjected to violence and must be protected at all times.

Any principle or custom gains the power of a law only when it is codified. In lieu of the above principle, few conventions exist that we will discuss later in this Article. However, one of the first recognition of this principle can be seen in ‘1899 Hague Convention (II)’. The preamble of the convention stated:

Civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.”

These were the words of Professor Fyodor Fyodorovich Martens, who was the Russian delegate at the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 and the above, is thus known as ‘Martens Clause’.

This branch of law that entails the protection of rights of prisoners of war and of civilians is known as International Humanitarian law and is entirely different from the law of human rights. International Humanitarian Law governs the relations or conduct of the states at the time of a conflict; and implying that ‘Law of Armed Conflict’ or ‘Laws of War’ are synonyms to it.

International Law is implemented through conventions and treaties signed by the sovereign states on a global level. Since laws of war encompass various rights and duties, there are approximately 600 articles in various conventions that prohibit the use of violence in a state of war.[3]

However, Geneva Convention, 1949 along with the additional protocols deals exclusively with the laws of armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols protect sick, wounded and shipwrecked persons not taking part in hostilities, prisoners of war and other detainees, civilians and civilian objects.[4]



[1] (2 Ex. D. 63 (1876))

[2] Mohd. Aqib Aslam, International Law: Definitions, Nature And Basis, LEGAL SERVICE INDIA, (July 12, 2023, 01:00 PM),


[3] Hans-Peter Gasser, International humanitarian law and the protection of war victims, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS, (July 12, 2023, 12:40 PM),


[4]  Protected persons, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS, (July 12, 2023, 12:45 PM),

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