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Unit rationale, description and aim

International humanitarian law (IHL) is the law that governs conduct during armed conflict. Armed conflicts create practical and legal challenges for the protection of human rights. In these situations, many of the accepted provisions of international human rights law may be suspended and it is necessary to refer to international humanitarian law to protect the vulnerable. This body of international law covers the legal means and methods of warfare and the treatment of the defenceless: civilians; the wounded; prisoners of war. International humanitarian law has been described as one of the three branches of ‘humanity’s law’, alongside international human rights law and international criminal justice. As such, an understanding of international humanitarian law is essential for a human rights practitioner.

This aim of this unit is to equip you with this knowledge and to enable you to apply it in practical situations. The unit will introduce you to the legal framework of IHL, covering the Hague and Geneva Conventions and the customary law principles of distinction and proportionality. It will look at the range of issues dealt with by these laws, including lawful and unlawful weapons, combatant status, the protection of civilians, and war crimes. There will be an emphasis on applying these rules to current conflicts and topical issues in international humanitarian law. The unit will also consider the role of humanitarian agencies in developing and implementing IHL.

The skills and knowledge gained in this unit would be useful for a human rights practitioner working in humanitarian organisations, monitoring agencies, or a range of government, military and legal roles.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the current legal and institutional framework of the evolving nature and practice of international humanitarian law (GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Apply international humanitarian law to armed conflict (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Reflect critically on international humanitarian law (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  1. The Sources of International Humanitarian Law
  2. Combatants
  3. Civilians
  4. Civilian Objects
  5. War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity
  6. Weaponry
  7. Cultural Heritage
  8. Environmental Protection
  9. The International Committee of the Red Cross
  10. Current Issues in International Humanitarian Law

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit comprises 150 hours of study in total. It will be taught over a 12-week semester, with one 2-hour lecture followed by a 1-hour tutorial each week. Other study components might include on-line webinars, podcasts, readings, discussion forums etc. The balance of the hours is comprised of private study. The strategy is to encourage students to actively engage with unit content and their peers; to provide a clear link between lecture content and tutorial practicum to develop an authentic, case- based understanding of international humanitarian law and its application. The learning and teaching strategy extends from within this unit, to integrate with other units in the course. Within an integrated learning framework, lectures will provide core content relating to the topics identified above and begin a process of active, engaged, exploration, which will be deepened by detailed explanation and further investigation in tutorials. Students are then encouraged to test that evolving understanding by applying it to factual situations, to produce solutions supported by legal authorities and arguments; and to reflect on their learning. Each component is intended to build on knowledge, understanding and skills to progressively scaffold student learning. The online learning platform used in this unit provides multiple preparatory and practice opportunities to guide in-class and out-of-class study. Online learning assistance in the form of learning resources, notices, assessment information (including online submission, marking and return of results/feedback), is student focused, affording greater accessibility and flexibility to the learning experience.

Assessment strategy and rationale

It is proposed that this unit be assessed by three assignments used deliberately as an integral part of the learning process to guide and scaffold learning, as well as to determine learning outcomes. Each assessment will build on and develop the knowledge and skills gained in the previous assessments. The first assessment will be basic content knowledge assessment, such as quizzes, that will be embedded in the learning materials to support directed learning. The second assessment will be a case-study based assessment, where students are asked to identify which rules and principles of IHL may apply to a contemporary conflict or incident. The third assessment will ask students to build on the second assessment by writing a report which applies the identified rules to the conflict/incident, assesses the lawfulness of the conflict/incident according to these rules, and comments on any limitations or problems within these rules. In this way, students will be guided through cumulative assessment and directed feedback to learn how to locate and identify the rules of IHL, to apply them to practical situations and cases, and to reflect critically on their content.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Multiple choice online quiz: Requires students to demonstrate their knowledge of international humanitarian law rules and research techniques for international law.



GA5, GA8, GA9

Case Study Report Outline: this will be based on a form that requires students to: identify a case or incident that raises questions of IHL; list factual sources on the incident and reflect on their veracity; identify relevant treaty or customary laws that may apply to the incident; locate academic commentary on those laws.  


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Case Study Report: This assessment requires students to use the sources and laws identified in the previous assessment to produce a report that analyses the lawfulness of an incident and reflects critically on the prevailing rules of international humanitarian law.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Emily Crawford and Alison Pert, International Humanitarian Law (2nd ed) (CUP, 2020).

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