The Banning of Anti-Personnel Landmines: The Legal Contribution of the International Committee of the Red Cross

By Louis Maresca; Stuart Maslen | Go to book overview

1
Historical background: the international law
governing weapons

International humanitarian law is the branch of international law concerned with the waging of warfare.1 It regulates the conduct of hostilities and the treatment of those not actively participating in the conflict (namely, civilians, the wounded and sick, and prisoners of war). It seeks to minimize suffering and ensure that both combatants and civilians are treated humanely. Although international treaties on the subject are of fairly recent origin, practices regulating armed hostilities are evident throughout history. Even before there were States, battles fought between tribes, clans or other groups were often governed by rules to mitigate the effects of armed violence. The ancient texts of many civilizations show that in war, prisoners were not to be killed but taken and well treated; women, children and the elderly were not to be harmed; and warriors should not use barbarous weapons or methods of attack.2 While such practices were often founded on grounds of religion, morality or honour, they are the forerunners of the legal regime States have developed to regulate armed conflict.

International humanitarian law is based on the precept that the sole objective of war is to overpower the armed forces of the opponent.3 Men become the legitimate object of attack solely because of their relationship

____________________
1
International humanitarian law was traditionally known as the 'law of war' and today is also commonly referred to as the 'law of armed conflict'.
2
See Sumio Adachi, 'A Process to Reaffirmation of International Humanitarian Law – A Japanese View', Proceedings of the National Defence Academy, 48 (March 1994), 437–477, on the Japanese code of behaviour 'Bushido', and Nagendra Singh, 'Armed Conflicts and Humanitarian Laws of Ancient India', in Christophe Swinarski (ed.) Studies and Essays of International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet (Geneva: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984), pp. 531–536.
3
H. Lauterpacht (ed.), Oppenheim's International Law, 7th edn (London: Longmans, 1952) vol. II, pp. 226–227.

-7-

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