27. Historical development of international humanitarian law


Learning outcome

After completing this activity, the student should know the milestones in development of IHL and should be familiar with the historical development of international human rights law and its distinction from humanitarian law. Student should understand the role of international stakeholders in creating this branch of international law.


Watch the short videos and answer the related questions.


The turning point in the history of IHL is the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Jean Henri Dunant witnessed tremendous suffering of more than 40 000 wounded soldiers and those involved in the battle and shared these impressions in his book A Memory of Solferino published in 1862. The result of these efforts was the Geneva conference in 1864 which discussed the possibilities of how to mitigate terrible consequences of warfare. The First Hague Peace Conference in 1899 is regarded as the first attempt to regulate the way of waging wars and resulted in the Hague Regulations on land warfare. The 'Hague law' centred at the prohibition of means and methods of warfare is reflected in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and their revisions in 1907. An important milestone in IHL occurred in 1949 with adoption of Four Geneva Conventions which reflected experiences from the WWII (1939-1945) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The 'Convention on Amelioration of the Conditions of the Wounded in Armies in the Field' in 1949 constitutes the First Geneva Convention. Four Geneva Conventions laid down a branch of IHL known as the 'Geneva law' concerning the protection of vulnerable groups affected by armed conflicts. A rising international awareness on the need to revise IHL occurred in 1960s. These attempts resulted in the Geneva Conference initiated by the ICRC in 1974 and culminated in the adoption of the 1977 Additional Protocols I and II to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 strengthened the division of armed conflicts on IACs and NIACs.

Take quiz

Question 13 pts

Watch this video and indicate all correct reasons for the adoption and amendment of the Geneva conventions.

Question 21 pts

Watch the interview with prof. Marco Sassoli and identify distinction between international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).

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