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close this bookLaw in Humanitarian Crises Volume I : How Can International Humanitarian Law Be Made Effective in Armed Conflicts? (European Commission Humanitarian Office)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
close this folderThe Laws of War: Problems of Implementation in Contemporary Conflicts
View the documentI. Introduction
close this folderII. Implementation Provisions and Mechanisms
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. From 1899 to the Second World War
View the document2. The Post-Second World War Trials
View the document3. The Post-1945 Conventions: General
View the document4. The Post-1945 Conventions: Humanitarian, Monitoring and Fact-Pinding Tasks
View the document5. The Post-1945 Conventions: Punishment and Compensation
View the document6. Other Mechanisms of Implementation
View the document7. The Involvement of the United Nations
View the document8. The International Court of Justice
close this folderIII. Problems of Implementation in Wars since 1980
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Iran-Iraq War 1980-88
View the document2. The 1990-91 Gulf Conflict
View the document3. The Wars in the Former Yugoslavia since 1991
View the document4. Civil War and Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia 1992-95
View the document5. International Conference, Geneva, August-September 1993
View the document6. Rwanda 1994
close this folderIV. General Issues
View the document1. Woodrow Wilson's Dilemma in 1914
View the document2. Successors' Responses to illegal Acts of Previous Regimes
View the document3. One Alternative Vision
close this folderV. Summary and Conclusions
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Realist and Idealist Images of the Laws of War
View the document2. Still a World of States
View the document3. Humanitarianism as a Substitute for Policy
View the document4. Application to Non-International Conflicts
View the document5. Mines
View the document6. Limits of Compliance Provisions
View the document7. Trials
View the document8. International Criminal Court
View the document9. Reparations
View the document10. The United Nations
View the document11. Barbarians?
View the document12. A Set of Professional Military Standards?
View the document13. Need to Keep Our Own Houses in Order
View the document14. The Relation between Ius in Bello and Ius ad Bellum
View the document15. Taking Implementation Seriously
close this folderThe Implementation of International Humanitarian Law in the Framework of United Nations Peace-keeping Operations
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentI. The United Nations and Humanitarian Law
View the documentII. The failure of the UN in Constituting Enforcement Instruments and the Practice of the Security Council of Authorizing Enforcement Action by States
View the documentIII. The Law of International Armed Conflicts and UN Enforcement Operations Under Chapter VII
View the documentIV. The Alternative Experience of Peace-keeping Operations
View the documentV. The 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations Personnel as an Instrument Proscribing Attacks Against United Nations Missions in the Framework of Ius ad Bellum and the Contextual Recognition of the Applicability of Ius in Bello
View the documentVI. The Applicability of International Humanitarian Law to Peace-keeping Operations in the Light of General Instruments of International Law
View the documentVII. The Practice of Specific Instruments Concerning the Applicability of International Humanitarian Law in Peace-keeping Operations
View the documentVIII. A Conclusion in the Light of the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations Personnel
close this folderInternational Humanitarian Law and the Law of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentI. Introduction
close this folderII. The Inadequacy of International Refugee Law in Situations of Armed Conflict
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View the document1. The Need for Reconsidering the Refugee Definitions in International Law
View the document2. The Need for Improving the Substantive Rights of Refugees in Situations of Armed Conflict
View the document3. The Need for Improving International Co-operation with Regard to Refugees from Situations of Armed Conflict
View the document4. The Need for Further Consideration of International Action in Favour of Refugees from Situations of Armed Conflict
close this folderIII. The Inadequacy of International Law in Respect of Internally Displaced Persons
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Existing Norms of International Law Applying to Internally Displaced Persons
View the document2. The Lacunae of International Law in Respect of Internally Displaced Persons
View the document3. Possible Ways of Improving the Legal Situation of Internally Displaced Persons
View the document4. The Need for Further Consideration of International Action in Favour of Internally Displaced Persons
close this folderIV. The Need for Comprehensive Approaches
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Overcoming the Differentiation Between Externally Displaced Persons (Refugees) and Internally Displaced Persons
View the document2. Overcoming the Still Existing Differentiation in International Law as Regards Norms Applicable Before, During and After Situations of Armed Conflicts Resulting in Forced Movements of Persons
View the documentV. Conclusions and Recommendations
View the documentNotes on the Contributors
View the documentAbbreviations


This section looks at the formal provisions regarding implementation as set out in the conventions from 1899 to 1981, and glances briefly at aspects of the wider range of pressures and mechanisms which may in fact be involved in processes of implementation. When in an actual armed conflict the laws of war do play a part in shaping the decisions made by belligerents, they may do so for complex reasons. Action in consonance with the laws of war may owe much to a wide range of political, military, diplomatic and ethical factors: these may include a fear of military reprisals, and an anxiety to project a reasonable image with the domestic public and with actual or potential allies.

The 1992 German tri-service military manual lists thirteen factors, mainly treaty-based, that "can induce the parties to a conflict to counteract disobedience of the law applicable in armed conflicts and thus to enforce observance of international humanitarian law ":

· consideration for public opinion;
· reciprocal interests of the parties to the conflict;
· maintenance of discipline;
· fear of reprisals;
· penal and disciplinary measures;
· fear of payment of compensation;
· activities of protecting powers;
· international fact-finding;
· the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);
· diplomatic activities;
· national implementing measures;
· dissemination of humanitarian law; and
· the personal conviction and responsibility of the individual.

As has been recognized in many treaties and manuals on the subject, the laws of war are implemented largely through the medium of individual countries. It is usually through their government decisions, laws, courts and courts-martial, commissions of inquiry, military manuals, rules of engagement, and training and educational systems, that the provisions of international law have a bearing on the conduct of armed forces and individuals. The overwhelming majority of legal cases in connection with the laws of war have been in national, not international, courts.

Even where the problem is one of international enforcement following a violation - to get a foreign state or armed force to comply with the rules - the actions of individual governments have often been important. For example, neutral states may influence the conduct of belligerents, through private or public diplomatic pressure, economic inducements, embargoes, and even threats of military action. On the other hand, they are sometimes hesitant to do so, and when they do act their intervention is often rebuffed by belligerents.

One means of enforcing the law is reprisals. A reprisal may be defined as a retaliatory measure, normally contrary to international law, taken by one party to a conflict with the specific purpose of making an opponent desist from particular actions violating international law. It may be intended, for example, to make the adversary abandon an unlawful practice of warfare. The use of reprisals is controversial. They can on occasion be little more than a fig-leaf thinly disguising the resort to unrestrained warfare; and certain types of reprisal are now prohibited in 1977 Geneva Protocol I. At ratification, a number of states made declarations which, in interpreting some of the Protocol's provisions, appeared to keep open the possibility of reprisals. Italy's long statement of interpretation included the following: "Italy will react to serious and systematic violations by an enemy of the obligations imposed by Additional Protocol I and in particular its Articles 51 and 52 with all means admissible under international law in order to prevent any further violation". On occasion the threat or actuality of reprisals can be an important means of inducing restraint.

One other powerful instrument of enforcement is neglected in most discussions of the subject. Sometimes illegal conduct by a belligerent, including the commission of atrocities, may contribute to the formation of an international military coalition against the offending state; and may influence the coalition's willingness to use force. Such conduct has been a significant element in the building of many coalitions, including the anti-Axis alliance in the Second World War, the international coalition against Iraq in 1990-91, the intervention in Somalia in December 1992, and the decision by NATO and the UN to initiate "Operation Deliberate Force" in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 30 August 1995. Even the possibility of such a process is almost entirely neglected in the legal literature. It constitutes a little-recognized but important link between ius in bello (the law applicable in armed conflicts) and ius ad bellum (the law governing resort to armed conflict). It is discussed further at several points in this study.

The treaty provisions regarding implementation, discussed in subsequent parts of this section, are of many kinds. They include stipulations about the trial and punishment of individual offenders, and about reparations by states. They touch on reciprocity as a basis for observing the laws of war, and on the controversial issue of threats of reprisals as a means of enforcing the law. They contain a variety of arrangements, including monitoring, negotiating, and fact-finding, in order to secure implementation of the conventions. Despite this wealth of provisions, concentration on the treaty arrangements for securing compliance can easily mislead. Many of the formal written provisions have proved less important in practice than was hoped. Arrangements and forms of pressure that were not envisaged in the laws of war treaties have sometimes had more impact.