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Advanced Introduction to International Humanitarian Law

Robert Kolb

This innovative book provides a thought-provoking introduction to international humanitarian law (IHL). Robert Kolb explores the field through questions which are at times challenging and controversial in order to get to the very essence of the subject and give a fresh perspective. The result is an exposition both of the law as it stands, through its written and unwritten rules, and also of the uncertainties, gaps, controversies and practical problems which have arisen. IHL is revealed as a living tool, an ever-adapting means to an ever-remaining need of protection during times of armed conflict.
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1  The main epochs of modern international humanitarian lawand their related legal constructions

Robert Kolb


The purpose of this chapter is to provide the reader with a sense and feeling for the social and legal environment in which international humanitarian law (IHL) has unfolded since the time of the first Geneva Convention of 1864. This date opens the era of IHL studied today, as opposed to historical studies on the laws of war in antiquity, in the Middle Ages or in other than European cultures of the past. It is trite knowledge that no legal norm operates aloof from and in isolation of a certain social setting, a dominant ideological outlook and a certain way of considering the law itself. All these factors constitute an environment into which the law is cast. This environment does not represent the law; it is at best a material source aiding in its understanding. As such, it may be a good starting point for our exploration, since it will indicate to us what were the pivotal points of IHL during the last one and a half centuries, how these pillars have evolved and also why they have changed.

In a very rough categorization, there are two main phases in the development of modern IHL. First, the phase spanning 1864 to 1949, which can be called the phase of classical IHL, or better the laws of war; second, the phase from 1949 to today, which can be called the phase of modern IHL2. Each of these bodies of law has its own characteristics and functioned in a system...

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