ARMED CONFLICT: The Domestic Implementation of International Humanitarian Law

Summary: This manual is a practical tool to assist policy-makers, legislators and other stakeholders worldwide in adhering to international humanitarian law (IHL) instruments. Drawing on the ICRC Advisory Service’s 15 years of experience, the manual offers guidance to help States implement IHL and meet all their obligations under that body of law, including the repression of serious violations.

The ICRC’s Advisory Service was established within the ICRC Legal Division in 1996. Since then, the number of States that are parties to instruments of international humanitarian law (IHL) has increased significantly. Much work remains to be done by States, however, to ensure that the obligations set out in these instruments are adequately reflected in domestic law and applied in practice.

This manual has been drafted mainly for policy-makers and legislators, and for those assisting them in their efforts to comply with their obligation to ensure respect for IHL. It aims to assist them in the ratification of relevant instruments and to offer guidelines in the implementation process, thus enabling them to bring their laws and practice in line with the requirements of IHL.

The manual emphasizes general principles and obligations as much as possible; it does so in order to reach beyond differences in legal traditions and in levels of institutional development. It follows a treaty-based approach: for instance, one important chapter (Chapter Four) is on the core instruments of IHL, i.e. the universally ratified Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005. Other chapters deal with complementary instruments concerning the protection of specific persons and property during armed conflict (Chapter Five), weapons (Chapter Six) and the International Criminal Court (Chapter Seven). All the chapters provide succinct overviews of the contents of treaties; they do not discuss a treaty’s every provision in detail. Because the manual is for use primarily by legislative drafters or those assisting them, it focuses on those provisions that require action in the form of legislative or regulatory measures. General information on IHL and its implementation is provided in the introductory chapters (Chapters One to Three), which also discuss the links between IHL and criminal law at the domestic level. The manual offers some practical tools: an extensive bibliography – with titles in English, French and Spanish – as well as annexes containing model laws and guidelines developed by the ICRC and other specialized organizations.

This manual does not set out to provide definitive legal interpretations of the provisions of the instruments that it describes. It should be regarded as a practical tool that the ICRC’s Advisory Service makes available to all those involved in the implementation of IHL. It reflects the expertise accumulated during its close to 14 years of experience in implementing IHL. Combined with the ICRC’s web-accessible databases on national implementation measures (, which provide examples of legislation and jurisprudence from countries around the world, and on IHL treaties and documents (, which show the current state of signatures and ratifications, this manual should provide a number of answers.

The ICRC’s Advisory Service on IHL stands ready to assist States in their efforts to further respect for IHL obligations. It may be contacted through its network of regional legal advisers or in Geneva at the address below:

Advisory Service on IHL
International Committee of the Red Cross
19, avenue de la Paix
CH – 1202 Genève
Tel.:     +41 22 734 6001
Fax:    +41 22 733 2057
E-mail: [email protected]



    Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.