Even War Has Rules: A Discussion With Karl Wendell

On February 23, patrons have the honor of hearing from Karl Wendell, a volunteer with the American Red Cross and International Humanitarian Law instructor, at 1 pm at the Camdenton Library.

What is International Humanitarian Law?

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects those who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

How is armed conflict defined under IHL?

We can break down armed conflict into two different categories, 1). international armed conflict, and 2). domestic armed conflict.

International armed conflict occurs when there is a conflict between two or more States as defined in the four Geneva conventions and the  Additional Protocols I.

Domestic or non-international conflict occurs when there is a conflict between a State and one or more non-state armed groups or among non-state armed groups.

Four Fundamentals Principles of IHL

There are four fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law. The first, military necessity, is the principle that justifies those measures not forbidden by international law and are indispensable for securing the enemy as soon as possible.

Second is the distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives.

Third, proportionality is where combatants seeking an attack must weigh out the benefits of the strike versus the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, destruction of civilian property, or a combination thereof, which can be labeled as excessive.

And fourth is to limit the amount of unnecessary suffering. Therefore it is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles, materials and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous or unnecessary suffering.

Who is protected?

While all civilians are protected, the following is a partial list of those who are entitled to enhanced protection:

  • Wounded and sick combatants on land or at sea
  • Prisoners of war or persons deprived of their freedoms
  • Military and civilian medical personnel, their equipment, and means of transportation
  • Religious personnel (chaplain of the armed forces)
  • Red Cross and other relief personnel

Are there any protected places?


Yes, all civilian property is protected, and like above, some places and properties are entitled to enhanced protection. Those listed below are a partial list of what is covered:

  • Medical facilities, both military and civilian
  • Cultural and historical sites
  • Religious facilities
  • Objects needed for the survival of the civilian population (water/energy supplies)
  • Works and installations containing dangerous forces (dams, nuclear power plants, dikes, etc.)
  • The natural environment

Leave a Reply