Introduction: Symposium on the Relationship between International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law
Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2009
6 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2012
Date Written: February 10, 2010
In recent years, the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law has become increasingly controversial. Human rights lawyers and activists have sought to apply human rights norms to military conduct in international and internal conflicts, and during belligerent occupations. With varying degrees of success, complainants have brought their cases before international tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission and Court, and to national courts able to apply international human rights standards. Governments, however,have largely resisted attempts to extend the reach of international human rights law into areas traditionally governed by international humanitarian law.
On 6 May 2009, the Society of Legal Scholars international law subject section and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law held their 18th annual conference on theory and international law on the subject of the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Panels explored the conceptual issues that influence the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law, the approach to the relationship taken by national and international courts, and its operational impact. The contributions to this symposium are based on papers presented at the conference. The contributors not only survey, from various perspectives, the current state of the debate but also provide suggestions as to the directions the law should follow.
In the final analysis, however, the two areas of law are different. They do not start from the same premises and often try to do different things. Attempts to humanize humanitarian law can only take us so far and risk undermining both respect for international humanitarian law and standards in international human rights law. Although, as the contributors to the symposium show, various legal tools do exist for relating the two bodies of law, they cannot always provide an answer. Legislation, rather than judicial interpretation, may be necessary to resolve conflicts between norms. And in a world of States with different values and interests, the adoption of new rules governing armed conflict and belligerent occupation may be difficult, if not impossible. This may be a more pessimistic approach to the issue than that promoted by some commentators, but it is a more realistic one.
Keywords: international humanitarian law, international human rights law
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation