Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law

Articles

THE IMPLEMENTATION OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW: CURRENT AND INHERENT CHALLENGES

Marco Sassòli*

Abstract

The implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) is confronted with many challenges. Some of them are inherent since IHL applies to armed conflicts: a situation must be classified before IHL can be applied. Existing implementation mechanisms either do not function at all or have their limits. In certain conflicts, such as asymmetric conflicts, and with regard to certain players, such as armed groups, it is particularly difficult to obtain respect of IHL. Beyond that, there is a perhaps even more dangerous challenge in perception.

The gap between the burgeoning promises of protection by the law made by doctrine, jurisprudence and sometimes even by States, and the systematic non-respect of that law, which (in the author's view wrongly) transpires from the media and NGO reports, undermines the credibility of the law and the willingness to respect it. The author advocates ways to reduce this gap.

Keywords

  • international humanitarian law;
  • implementation;
  • ICRC;
  • international criminal justice;
  • asymmetric warfare;
  • non-state armed groups;
  • credibility;
  • perception

Footnotes

* Marco Sassòli is professor of international law at the University of Geneva, Switzerland and associate professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada. He chairs the boards of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and of Geneva Call, an NGO with the objective to engage armed non-State actors to adhere to humanitarian norms. He thanks his research assistants, Ms. Lindsey Cameron and Ms. Julia Grignon for their invaluable research and challenging remarks in preparing this paper and for revising the text.