As we settle into a new stay-at-home routine during this period of uncertainty arising out of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, most of us are going back to things we had been meaning to do “later”.

For our readers, many of whom are international law practitioners and scholars, this could be the perfect occasion to brush up on their knowledge of the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law (IHL), international law protections, health assistance, and more. Every week, through this blogpost we continue to share with you interesting reads, including relevant ICRC reports, articles, tools and other digital products, so that you can make the most of this opportunity and also take your mind off the anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19.

We hope you enjoy reading these and writing about the things you found most interesting in the comments below.




National IHL committees and IHL implementation
One thing that many of us have witnessed during the current global pandemic is the importance of a coordinated and inclusive government response. This is also the case for the implementation of international humanitarian law, which often requires involvement of a range of ministries and authorities, including foreign affairs, defence, home, legal, finance, education, armed forces and police. One way that many countries have chosen to approach the challenge of coordination is through the creation of national IHL committees. What can these committees teach us about coordinating national responses? Here are some resources that throw light on this question.

ICRC factsheet: Implementing IHL from law to action

This explains what it means to implement IHL at the national level, whose responsibility it is to do so, what general measures must be adopted and how this can be done.


ICRC factsheet: National committees for the implementation of IHL

It describes the purpose, functions and composition of national committees for the implementation of IHL.


ICRC article: Regional experts mull over challenges in IHL implementation

This piece is about the first such expert exchange meeting in Asia – organised in Dhaka last year – in which participants from across the region discussed issues regarding implementation of IHL and other humanitarian norms, shared updates, achievements, experiences, good practices and challenges faced at the domestic level.


ICRC report on national committees and similar entities on IHL: Guidelines for success – Towards respecting and implementing international humanitarian law

This document provides an overview of the role and work of these national IHL committees. It outlines how to make the committee work well, looking at the committee’s membership and detailing features that have proved necessary for committees to fulfil their role. It concludes with some templates to help national IHL committees carry out their work effectively.


International Review of the Red Cross article: Ensuring national compliance with IHL: the role and impact of national IHL Committees

Through the examples of the national IHL committees of Belgium, Peru and Mexico, this article looks at what can work at the domestic level in the ongoing effort to build an effective system for improving compliance with IHL.


ICRC resource: Table of National IHL Committees and other national bodies on international humanitarian law

This table contains information on all existing national committees and other national bodies on IHL. There were 112 national IHL committees across the world in November 2019, including one new committee in Bulgaria.




Cyber warfare and its humanitarian consequences
On 26 May 2020, more than forty current and former international political and business leaders supported an ICRC-led call urging governments to work together and stop cyberattacks against healthcare systems around the world. In a letter signed by them, the luminaries underscore that such attacks are prohibited in the physical world and must not be tolerated in cyberspace. The call comes against the background of important discussions on cyber stability and cyberattacks against healthcare facilities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is only fitting that we bring you this edition of the IHL reading list focusing on cyber warfare and its humanitarian consequences.

Blog article: Current and former world leaders call on governments to stop cyberattacks against healthcare systems

This article throws light on the joint letter urging governments to work together, including at the United Nations, to reaffirm and recommit to international rules that prohibit cyberattacks. Notable signatories include Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Former Director-General, World Health Organization Margaret Chan, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu, and from India — Nandan Nilekani, Non-executive Chairman of the Board, Infosys, and Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation.


ICRC Report to the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent: IHL and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts – Chapter 2.2(a) Cyber operations, their potential human cost and the protections afforded by IHL

ICRC continues to follow the evolution of cyber operations and their potential human cost, in particular during armed conflicts. This report provides an overview of some of the major challenges posed by contemporary armed conflicts for IHL.


Blog article: Cyber operations during armed conflict: 7 essential law and policy questions

This article addresses seven essential law and policy questions, ranging from the alleged ‘legitimisation’ of cyber warfare to why cyber questions concern all States.


ICRC position paper: IHL and cyber operations during armed conflict

The use of cyber operations during armed conflicts is a reality. While only a few States have publicly acknowledged using such operations, an increasing number of States are developing military cyber capabilities, and their use is likely to increase in future. In this position paper, the ICRC presents its views on cyber operations and IHL.


ICRC report: The potential human cost of cyber operations

Cyber attacks and their consequences have remained on top of the agenda around the world. This report provides an account of the discussions that took place during a meeting of experts organised by the ICRC in November 2018 on the potential human cost of cyber operations.


ICRC Statement to the UN open-ended working group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security: Norms for responsible State behaviour on cyber operations should build on international law

In this, the ICRC reiterates the importance of protecting critical civilian infrastructure against harmful cyber operations. When discussing existing and possible new norms in this respect, the ICRC encourages States to consider, and to build on, their existing legal obligations under IHL.


Compilation of resources: Cyber warfare e-briefing

As part of the ICRC Law and Policy e-briefing on ‘New Technologies and the Modern Battlefield: Humanitarian Perspectives’, this provides a selection of key articles and interviews addressing and discussing questions of when cyber war really means war in the sense of “armed conflict”, or how the most important rules on conduct of hostilities, namely the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution, shall be applied and interpreted in the cyber realm.


Case study and discussion points: Iran, Victim of cyber warfare

Case prepared in 2015 by Ms. Margherita D’Ascanio, LL.M., student at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, to discuss the applicability of IHL and whether IHL should be adapted to address the realities of the changing cyber landscape and its potential battlefields.


Special edition of the International Review of the Red Cross: Cyber conflict and IHL

Conflict in cyberspace is different from conflict in physical space in many dimensions, and attributing hostile cyber operations to a responsible party can be difficult. This article of the special edition looks at how the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions are relevant to cyber operations, but the specifics of such relevance are unclear because cyberspace is new compared to these instruments.




Access to education and IHL
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of access to education in the development of children. With the education of over 1.6 billion children (according to Unicef) affected as a result of the pandemic, the role it plays in not only children’s learning and safeguarding, but also in ensuring they receive essential nutrition has dominated the public discourse in recent months. However, for thousands of children, the current situation will not be the first time their access to education has been disrupted. Around the world every day, armed conflicts prevent children from accessing the education they deserve. In this week’s reading list, we take a look at access to education within an IHL framework.

Question and answer: ICRC and access to education

This Q&A offers preliminary responses to ten frequently asked questions which the ICRC has addressed, in particular since the launch of its framework and strategy on access to education in 2017. The questions range from factual information about what the ICRC and the Movement do on access to education, or what the Geneva Conventions say about education, to policy positions on education and humanitarian action.


Photo gallery: Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Access to education should not be hampered by conflicts

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has disrupted the affected populations’ life in many ways. Hampered access to education is one of its worst setbacks. The ICRC works in the region to increase the safety and accessibility of schooling to kids for whom education remains the major key to open the doors to the world outside. Along with efforts to safeguard students, we carry out safety behaviour sessions, provide mental health support and train teachers to better help the children.


Blog article: Three reasons why education needs the support of humanitarian actors in conflict zones

In protracted conflicts where we operate, children struggle to get an education mainly because education systems are severely and chronically under-resourced, both financially and technically. This article looks at how humanitarian action supporting education in these contexts could make any meaningful impact.


ICRC Report to the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent: International humanitarian law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts: Chapter on needs of the civilian population in increasingly long conflicts

Too often, education is rapidly and profoundly disrupted during armed conflict. The disruption of education has long‑term effects that can persist for generations. In recognition of these persistent challenges, the ICRC developed its Framework for Access to Education and an accompanying strategy for 2018–2020.


ICRC guidelines: The Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict

The Safe Schools Declaration, launched in Oslo in May 2015, highlights the broad impact of armed conflict on education and outlines a set of commitments to strengthen the protection of education and ensure its continuity during armed conflict.


Blog article: A sneak peak into the upcoming edition of the International Review of the Red Cross on Children and War

This is not the first time the Review has addressed international humanitarian law, policy and action related to children. The ICRC, and therefore the Review, has always been concerned by the particularly tragic effects of armed conflict on children. The ICRC continues to work to improve the lives of children affected by conflict.




Attacks against healthcare systems
This week is all about healthcare workers and the difference they continue to make, especially in such times of crisis. In many contexts, however, they are being met with hostility, suspicion and even violence. The following links are just a reminder of the respect, gratitude and solidarity they deserve.

Health Care in Danger: Meeting the challenge report

A collection of stories from the field that describe how violence can disrupt the delivery of health care in a matter of seconds. But these stories also offer a glimpse of hope. They illustrate effective measures taken by different people in different countries to prevent violence against health-care workers and facilities.


International Review of the Red Cross special: Health Care in Danger (Volume I and Volume II)

Patients and healthcare personnel alike face extraordinary risks. Part I focuses on patterns of attacks against healthcare, based on results from health-related data collection and field studies. Part II focuses on the legal, operational or policy measures that can be taken to improve access to medical care in volatile contexts.


Updated casebook: Explore protections that IHL provides for healthcare workers, the wounded and the sick during conflict


Exhibition: Explore the history of conflict during a virtual tour of the “Guerre & Paix” exhibition at the Bodmer Foundation, which explores humanity’s complex relationship between war and peace.




Interactive e-learning course: Introduction to International Humanitarian Law eLearning

An introductory course on the basics of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). It is principally addressed to humanitarian practitioners, policy-makers and other professionals who are keen on understanding how and when this body of law applies, and whom it protects.


Blog article: COVID-19 response in conflict zones hinges on respect for international humanitarian law

This piece underscores that in order to respond adequately to the needs of communities, health professionals and authorities during these unprecedented times, it is vital that key provisions of international humanitarian law are respected.


Upcoming webinar: Counter terrorism, sanctions and humanitarian access in the COVID-19 era

This free webinar is hosted by the ICRC.


Blog article: From the Spanish Flu to COVID-19: lessons from the 1918 pandemic and First World War

The article discusses hard-won lessons from a period in history, and similarities with the COVID-19 crisis — that merit reflection on how armed conflicts can influence the ways we talk about and struggle to mitigate the current pandemic.


Intercross podcast: Difficult to Contain: The impact of COVID-19 on detention centres

This podcast takes a look at the threat of a new pandemic entering detention centers, where once inside, it is very difficult to contain.




IHL talk: Fighting Two Battles at the Same Time: Responding to Covid-19 in Conflict Zones

In this online IHL Talk hosted by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, panelists discussed the challenges faced by humanitarian organizations in organising the response to COVID-19, and states’ obligation of due diligence to prevent the further spread of the virus.


Blog article: We are not at ‘war’ with COVID-19: concerns from Italy’s ‘frontline’

Politicians, academics and journalists are adopting conflict terminology signifying a ‘war’ on the coronavirus, stressing the lethal nature of this unprecedented threat. Adriano Iaria, Humanitarian Advocacy Officer of the Italian Red Cross, describes how this shift in our language could have dangerous consequences on the real frontlines of armed conflict.


Lectures: Advanced IHL Learning Series

A resource for lecturers and trainers who wish to keep abreast of the latest developments in international humanitarian law (IHL) and other related areas.


ICRC report: Violent incidents affecting the delivery of health care

The report highlights the urgent need to step up and implement measures for the protection of health care.


33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Resolution 3: Time to act: Tackling epidemics and pandemics together

The resolution proposes concrete actions for the Movement to work with governments and communities to improve national preparedness and response to epidemics and pandemics and support States’ efforts to strengthen core capacities in accordance with the International Health Regulations, where relevant. (background documents)




Intercross podcast: “The Crisis in Global Health with Esperanza Martinez”

Esperanza Martinez, ICRC’s head of health, talks about the consequences of conflict on health, the challenges of increasing humanitarian needs coupled with a shrinking workforce and dealing with coronavirus in an age of high human mobility.


ICRC factsheet: COVID-19: How IHL provides crucial safeguards during pandemics

This overview created for States, organisations and communities summarises some of the main provisions of IHL that may be particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Review article: “Making sense of apparent chaos: health care provision in six country case studies”

This research examines the impact on health-care provision of advanced state failure and of the violence frequently associated with it, drawing from six country case studies. The current global pandemic is highlighting the absolutely essential importance of a well-functioning public health-sector.


Blogpost: “Cyber attacks against hospitals and the COVID-19 pandemic: How strong are international law protections”

The piece discusses how the current global pandemic is highlighting the absolutely essential importance of a well-functioning public health-sector.


Interactive ICRC page: “How well could you negotiate on the frontline?” 

This interactive-narrative aims to show how frontline negotiators face horrific dilemmas. They have to strike a brutal balance between making an impact and maintaining their principles.


Chapter 6.IV from IHL: A Comprehensive Introduction: “Humanitarian Assistance”

This textbook presents contemporary issues related to IHL in an accessible and comprehensive manner, in line with the ICRC’s reading of the law. Thanks to its particular format and style, this book is not exclusively intended for lawyers; it also aims to meet the needs of persons approaching IHL for the first time and interested in conflict-related matters.


Editor’s note: The views expressed in articles, podcasts and reports shared in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Committee of the Red Cross.