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Casebook Credits History Find
International Humanitarian Law/Laws of War
First published Jul 2014

As public and media interest in the law of armed conflict has seemed to grow tremendously in the last decade, and as ostensibly instant access to information brings the world closer than ever to developments on the front lines, how (if at all) has our approach to centuries’-old law-of-war norms changed? This course will explore international law applicable during situations of armed conflict, often referred to as international humanitarian law (IHL) or the law of armed conflict (LOAC).

After examining foundational doctrines and concepts, we will explore some of the foremost contemporary challenges in IHL, including direct participation of civilians in hostilities; the interplay between international human rights law, international criminal law, and the law of armed conflict; and the relationship between the legal framework governing terrorism and international humanitarian law. We will investigate such questions as how does international law regulate the means and methods of warfare, protection of civilians, and humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict? How does international law classify and regulate different categories of armed conflict, and how does it distinguish armed conflicts from other situations of organized armed violence? And how does the law seek to balance principles of military necessity and humanity?

This playlist was built by Naz Modirzadeh and Dustin Lewis, with the help of Faculty Assistant Joely Merriman, to correspond to the syllabus of the fall 2014 class on "International Humanitarian Law/Laws of War" at Harvard Law School taught by Lecturer on Law Modirzadeh. The playlist links to publicly available resources where they are available and to the HLS iSite (internal course site) for non-publicly-available resources. Users outside of the Harvard community can nonetheless see the list of all of the materials provided for the course through this playlist. This playlist is subject to change and will likely be updated throughout the fall of 2014.

There are required readings and recommended (indicated as “supplementary”) readings for each day of class. Students are expected to have read all of the required readings by the designated class. There is a required book for this class — The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law, Third Edition, ed. Fleck (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). HLS students should be able to access an e-version of the Handbook at The legal instruments and documents required for class are freely available online (including through this H2O playlist). We invite critical feedback and comments on this playlist; please send them to and

The primary objective of this course is for students to go gain mastery of the doctrine and modes of argumentation of public international law applicable in armed conflict. The assumption underlying this course is that facility with doctrine is required in order to develop informed opinions, policy positions, and critical perspectives on the many contemporary dilemmas related to the law of armed conflict.
Additional objectives include:
1. To develop the capacity to distinguish between lex lata and lex ferenda;
2. To understand the context in which this law is applied and the relevant factors that may affect its enforcement;
3. To enhance skills of persuasion and argumentation, with a historical and global perspective on contemporary challenges;
4. To understand distinctions between fields of public international law relating to armed conflict and the potential significance of those distinctions; and
5. To increase understandings of public international law and lawyering more broadly. To help meet these objectives, the course is divided into two sections. The first two-thirds (or so) of the course track the classical components of international law applicable in armed conflict. The last third will allow us to use that set of knowledge, theories, substance, and modes of argumentation and apply them to a number of contemporary dilemmas.