Law of war

The First Geneva Convention governing the sick and wounded members of armed forces was signed in 1864.

The law of war is the most developed Body of Law within the Law of Nations which regulates the conduct of war (jus ad bellum) within and between sovereigns. (jus in bello). It is perhaps the oldest and most settled body of the law of nations and defines sovereignty, and nations; states and territories; occupations and other critical terms of international law.

Among other issues, modern laws of war address declarations of war, acceptance of surrender and the treatment of prisoners of war; military necessity, along with distinction and proportionality; and the prohibition of certain weapons that may cause unnecessary suffering.[1]

The law of war is considered distinct from other bodies of law—such as the domestic law of a particular belligerent to a conflict—which may provide additional legal limits to the conduct or justification of war.

Early sources and history

Attempts to define and regulate the conduct of individuals, nations, and other agents in war and to mitigate the worst effects of war have a long history. The earliest known instances are found in the Mahabharata and the Old Testament (Torah).

In the Indian subcontinent, the Mahabharata describes a discussion between ruling brothers concerning what constitutes acceptable behavior on a battlefield, an early example of the rule of proportionality:

One should not attack chariots with cavalry; chariot warriors should attack chariots. One should not assail someone in distress, neither to scare him nor to defeat him ... War should be waged for the sake of conquest; one should not be enraged toward an enemy who is not trying to kill him.

An example from the Deuteronomy 20:19–20 limits the amount of acceptable collateral and environmental damage:

19When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? 20Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.[2]

Also, Deuteronomy 20:10–12, requires the Israelites to make an offer of peace to the opposing party before laying siege to their city.

10 When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labour for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.[3]

Similarly, Deuteronomy 21:10–14 requires that female captives who were forced to marry the victors of a war could not be sold as slaves.[4]

In the early 7th century, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, whilst instructing his Muslim army, laid down the following rules concerning warfare:

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.[5][6]

Furthermore, Sura 2:190–193 of the Quran requires that in combat Muslims are only allowed to strike back in self-defense against those who strike against them, but, on the other hand, once the enemies cease to attack, Muslims are then commanded to stop attacking.

In the history of the early Christian church, many Christian writers considered that Christians could not be soldiers or fight wars. Augustine of Hippo contradicted this and wrote about 'just war' doctrine, in which he explained the circumstances when war could or could not be morally justified.

In 697, Adomnan of Iona gathered Kings and church leaders from around Ireland and Scotland to Birr, where he gave them the 'Law of the Innocents', which banned killing women and children in war, and the destruction of churches.[7]

In medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church also began promulgating teachings on just war, reflected to some extent in movements such as the Peace and Truce of God. The impulse to restrict the extent of warfare, and especially protect the lives and property of non-combatants continued with Hugo Grotius and his attempts to write laws of war.

One of the grievances enumerated in the American Declaration of Independence was that King George III "has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions".

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Kriegsvölkerrecht
العربية: قانون الحرب
Esperanto: Milita juro
한국어: 전시국제법
हिन्दी: युद्ध विधि
italiano: Diritto bellico
Nederlands: Oorlogsrecht
日本語: 戦時国際法
português: Leis da guerra
русский: Законы войны
Simple English: Laws of war
slovenčina: Vojnové právo
slovenščina: Vojno pravo
svenska: Krigets lagar
Türkçe: Savaş hukuku
中文: 战争法