International Law and Armed Conflict

This course examines a range of international law issues that arise in relation to armed conflict. The course will be divided into four parts.

The first part of the course will consider the international legal issues relating to whether and when States are entitled to use armed force. In this part of the course, we will examine the prohibition of the use of force contained in the UN Charter as well as the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other States. We will also devote considerable attention to the exceptions to the exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force, in particular, the right of self-defence in international law. Questions to be considered include the criteria for a lawful response in self-defence, the scope of the right of self defence in response to attacks by non-State groups, and the legality of anticipatory/pre-emptive self defence. This part of the course will also consider other possible exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force such as protection of nationals abroad, as well as the doctrines of humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect.

The second part of the course considers the use of force within the scheme for collective security set up by the UN Charter – We will examine the powers of the Security Council to authorize the use of force by states and to establish peace-keeping operations.

The third part of the course examines international humanitarian law, i.e, the law that applies during an armed conflict. We will address the distinction between the law applicable in international armed conflicts and that applicable in non-international armed conflicts. We also consider the extent to which transnational violence between States and non-State groups should be considered an armed conflict to which international humanitarian law applies. In this part, we will explore both the “Geneva law” relating to the humanitarian protection of victims of war and the “Hague law” relating to the means and methods of warfare. In particular, we will examine the law relating to the detention, prosecution and treatment of combatants and civilians and in situations of armed conflict. We then turn to the law that applies to the conduct of hostilities, examining in particular the rules relating to targeting and to weaponry.

The fourth and final part of the course will consider the extent to which international human rights law applies in time of armed conflict, the relationship between human rights and international humanitarian law, and questions of responsibility for violations of human rights or humanitarian law. In considering issues of responsibility, we will focus on how questions of responsibility arise and are determined in cases where operations conducted by state agents are authorized by, or carried out as part of the activities, of an international organization (the UN, NATO, etc). Is the international organization responsible, is the state responsible or is there a shared responsibility?

Learning outcomes: an understanding of the laws which determine whether and when States are entitled to use armed force, and which apply during an armed conflict (including international human rights law).