International humanitarian law is also sometimes described as the “law of armed conflict” or the “laws of war”. It is a framework of rules that restricts the means and methods of warfare and protects people who are not participating in the fighting, in order to limit the effects of armed conflict for humanitarian reasons. International humanitarian law does not regulate when or why a State may use force, or determine whether an armed conflict is legal or illegal, and the rules of international humanitarian law apply equally to all sides regardless of who started the conflict.
International humanitarian law is made up of a body of treaties. Many of the rules set down in these treaties have become so widely accepted that they are now regarded as customary international law and binding on all States.
The core international humanitarian law treaties are the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, concluded after World War II, which cover:
These four treaties have been universally adopted by all States. The Geneva Conventions have been supplemented by two Additional Protocols adopted in 1977 relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, and a third Additional Protocol adopted in 2005 specifying an additional emblem that may be used by organisations of the Red Cross. Other important international humanitarian law treaties regulate the types of weapons that can be used in armed conflict, including the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention and its five protocols, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines.