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School of Law

The law of armed conflict

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of this course, students should be familiar with, and able to subject to critical analysis, the sources of international humanitarian law and the key elements of English-language scholarship on the subject. Consequently, students should be able to:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of the history of ideas, legal doctrines and institutional structures developed to restrict the means and methods of warfare;
  2. demonstrate an ability to think critically about the role international law may play in the limitation and legitimation of violence;
  3. articulate and appraise different ideas, concepts, and approaches to international humanitarian law through concise yet sophisticated written and oral interventions;
  4. carry out independent research in the field of international law using both the library –based and electronic resources.


This course is taught annually in Term 1: Students are expected to attend one 2-hour lecture or seminar per week over 10 weeks

Scope and syllabus

This half unit course running in Term 1 provides an introduction to the field of international humanitarian law, examining the history of ideas, legal doctrines, institutional and administrative structures developed over the last century to moderate the use of armed force. We will examine the history and sources of international humanitarian law, its relationship with the ius ad bellum, and the basic principles that have governed its development (such as the principles of distinction and proportionality). Beyond the basic principles, we will examine a range of contemporary challenges to international humanitarian law such as the regulation of mercenaries and private military companies, the response to the problem of child soldiers, privileged and unprivileged combatants, the role and responsibilities of non-state actors, the changing role of law in occupation, feminist and post-colonial critiques of international humanitarian law. Emphasis will also be placed upon the relationship between international humanitarian law and other legal regimes such as human rights, the use of force and international criminal law. The assigned readings will focus on various ways to think about the legal regulation of violence, and on the history of legal efforts to organize and institutionalize international affairs. This course is designed to complement other courses offered within the international law subject grouping.

Method of assessment

Assessment Method: 100% unseen written examination

Suggested reading

Reading lists will be indicated on the BLE.