International humanitarian law or IHL is the law of armed conflict, the rules of war. International humanitarian law seeks to limit, for humanitarian reasons, the effects of armed conflict by protecting people not participating in the hostilities, such as civilians, health workers, and aid workers, as well as those who are no longer participating in hostilities, such as the wounded or prisoners of war. This body of law also protects people by regulating the methods of warfare that combatants can use. In other words, it attempts to limit the brutality of war. You've probably heard of the Geneva Conventions. This is a set of four treaties that were concluded in 1949 after World War II. Together, these four conventions form the core of international humanitarian law. Almost all of the world states have signed the Geneva Conventions. And while only states can sign on to international treaties, including these conventions, any side fighting in an armed conflict is generally accepted to be bound by international humanitarian law. Therefore, non-state actors, such as rebel groups and insurgents, are also bound by the Geneva Conventions if they're participating in the conflict. Ensuring compliance with these laws either by governments or non-state actors is, however, another story. Of the four Geneva Conventions, three are concerned with combatants. The first one protects the wounded and sick soldiers on land during war. The second one protects wounded, sick, and shipwrecked military at sea. And the third applies to prisoners of war. The Fourth Geneva Convention addresses the protection of civilians, particularly foreign nationals in the territory of a party to the conflict or in an occupied territory, and it contains detailed provisions on humanitarian relief. These four conventions, like the International Refugee Convention that we'll discuss later, were largely a response to World War II and the fact that traditional rules of war had been violated by both sides. While these four conventions mainly apply to armed conflict between nations, they all share an identical provision known as Common Article 3 which essentially applies to civil war. Although limited in scope, Article 3 requires that anyone not participating in the conflict be treated humanely, regardless of race or religion or other factors. It specifically prohibits violence, torture, degrading treatment, the taking of hostages, extrajudicial killings, and other atrocities. Now that we've learned a bit about international humanitarian law, let's watch a brief video from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is essentially the guardian of international humanitarian law. Since the beginning, humans have resorted to violence as a way to settle disagreements. Yet through the ages, people from around the world have tried to limit the brutality of war. It was this humanitarian spirit that led to the First Geneva Convention of 1864 until the birth of modern international humanitarian law. Setting the basic limits on how wars can be fought, these universal laws of war protect those not fighting, as well as those no longer able to. To do this, a distinction must always be made between who or what may be attacked and who or what must be spared and protected. Most importantly, civilians can never be targeted – to do so is a war crime. When they drove into our village, they shouted that they were going to kill everyone. I was so scared. I ran to hide in the bush. I heard my mother screaming; I thought I would never see her again. Every possible care must be taken to avoid harming civilians or destroying things essential for their survival. They have a right to receive the help they need. The conditions prisoners lived in never used to bother me. People like him were the reason my brother was dead. He was the enemy and was nothing to me. But then I realized that behind bars, he was out of action and no longer a threat to me and my family. The laws of war prohibit torture and other ill treatment of detainees, whatever their past. They must be given food and water and allowed to communicate with loved ones. This preserves their dignity and keeps them alive. Medical workers save lives, sometimes in the most dangerous conditions. Fighters from both sides were wounded in a deadly battle. We were taking them to the nearest hospital. At a checkpoint, a soldier threatened us to treat his men only. We were running out of time, and I was afraid that now all of them were going to die. Medical workers must always be allowed to do their job, and the Red Cross or Red Crescent must not be attacked. The sick or wounded have a right to be cared for regardless of whose side they're on. Advances in weapons technology have meant that the rules of war have also had to adapt. Because some weapons and methods of warfare don't distinguish between fighters and civilians, limits on their use have been agreed. In the future, wars may be fought with fully autonomous robots. But will such robots ever have the ability to distinguish between a military target and someone who must never be attacked? No matter how sophisticated weapons become, it is essential that they are in line with the rules of war. International Humanitarian Law is all about making choices that preserve a minimum of human dignity in times of war and make sure that living together again is possible, once the last bullet has been shot. Of the four Geneva Conventions, the fourth one is the most applicable to situations where persons have fled their homes and are displaced inside their country because of violent conflict. The components that address internal conflict are especially relevant to many of today's civil wars and other situations of violence between governments and non-state actors or conflicts that don't involve a government at all. Of course as human beings, internally displaced persons enjoy the same human rights as anyone else, anywhere, regardless of whether conflict is a factor. But in situations of conflict, ensuring the human rights of IDPs is often a significant challenge in part because of security factors and, as was previously mentioned, because violations of these same rights are often the cause of the displacement. Yet, the inability to access rights doesn't mean that they don't exist, and in situations of conflict, IDPs enjoy the same rights as other civilians that are provided under international humanitarian law. In fact in 1998, the UN issued a document known as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which we'll discuss soon. But first, let's talk about the international system for protecting and assisting refugees. We'll continue with that in the next section.