International humanitarian law forms a major part of public international law and comprises the rules which, in times of armed conflict, seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities and to restrict the methods and means of warfare employed.
International humanitarian law (IHL) also known as the law of armed conflicts or law of war has two branches:
- The “law of Geneva”, which is designed to safeguard military personnel who are no longer taking part in the fighting and people not actively involved in hostilities, i.e. civilians
- The “law of the Hague”, which establishes the right and obligations of belligerents in the conduct of military operations and limits the means of harming the enemy.
Two branches of IHL draw their names from the cities where each initially codified. With the adoption of the Additional Protocols of 1977, which combine both branches, that distinction is now of merely historical and didactic value.
An international armed conflict means fighting between the armed forces of at least two states (it should be noted that wars of national liberation have been classified as international armed conflicts)
A non-international armed conflict means fighting on the territory of a state between the regular armed forces and identifiable armed groups, or between armed groups fighting one another. To be considered a non-international armed conflict, fighting must reach a certain level of intensity and extend over a certain period of time.
International disturbances are characterized by a serious disruption of internal order resulting from acts of violence which nevertheless are not representative of an armed conflict (riots, struggles between factions or against the authorities, for example)
The expressions international humanitarian law, law of armed conflicts and law of war may be regarded as equivalents. International organizations, universities and even states will tend to favor international humanitarian law (or humanitarian law), whereas the other two expressions are made more commonly used by the armed forces