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International Humanitarian Law: Contemporary Challenges and New Developments

Register for this course event here

War remains a matter of great concern to humanity. Recent conflicts have demonstrated that the ravages of war continue to have a devastating impact especially on the civilian population. From the available data, it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of war victims are civilians.

War might be the “end of the law” as one said, but International Law is not silent on armed conflicts. From its conception in 1859 on the battlefield of Solferino to contemporary warfare, modern International Humanitarian Law (IHL) has been confronted with significant challenges. The development and sophistication of weapons has made it paradoxically problematic to distinguish between civilians and combatants in order to better protect the former. In addition, the proliferation of non-international armed conflicts (civil wars) and the emergence of new forms of armed conflicts, i.e. the “war on terrorism”, pose new challenges to the protection of civilian persons and goods. 

Course Objectives

The course is aimed to provide participants with an advanced knowledge of IHL and to offer an innovative analysis of the legal uncertainties surrounding new-age military capabilities namely drones and other weaponry systems. 

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the principles and rules, sources and sanctions of International Humanitarian Law.
  • Determine the scope of applicability of International Humanitarian Law with regard to the applicability of Human Rights Law and unconventional conflicts such as terrorism.
  • Analyze the core principles guiding the means and methods of warfare and assess their efficacy regarding modern weapons namely drones and ‘killer robots’.
  • Discuss the fundamental knowledge of protection granted to the victims of war, combatants and civilian persons and goods.
  • Critically analyze how International Humanitarian Law overall responds to emerging challenges.

Content and Structure

Module 1: Introduction to International Humanitarian Law
Principles, Sources and Sanctions
Module 2: Applicability of International Humanitarian Law
Scope of Applicability and Relationship with Human Rights Law
Module 3:  The “Hague Law” : Conduct of Hostilities 
Classical Regulations Meet New Means of Warfare: Drones, Killer Robots
Module 4: The “Geneva Law”: Protection of the Victims
Victims, Combatants, Protective Emblems and the Role of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement


The course design allows participants to actively interact with their peers and the moderator. Guided discussion forums are organized on selected topics to promote participation and knowledge sharing. Participants also have the opportunity to work with practical examples, analyze case studies and conduct short research assignments. As the course is an asynchronous e-learning course, trainees can access the course material and participate in the forums at any time. 

Depending on each module, there is a slight variation of the amount of study time required. As an average, participants are expected to devote approximately 10 hours per week to review the course content and to complete course assessment activities. 

Throughout the course, the course moderator will closely guide participants in their learning process and answer their questions.

Participants who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Completion issued by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

MONUSCO Photo/Sylvain Liechti