International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice

Coursera International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice

Leiden University
5 hours/week
5 weeks
Paid Certificate Available
Course Link
“International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice” is the first MOOC of the Kalshoven-Gieskes Forum on International Humanitarian Law, which is the platform within the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of Leiden University for the research, teaching and dissemination of international humanitarian law (IHL).

In this course, Prof. Robert Heinsch, Dr. Giulia Pinzauti and Dr. Emma Irving will give you a deep insight into the rules that govern armed conflict, and aim to mitigate human suffering on the battlefield. You will explore the why and how of IHL, followed by the different types of conflict. In no time you will find out which rules apply to the civil war in Syria, the military intervention in Ukraine and the occupation of the West Bank. During this course, you will learn how hostilities should be waged: Which weapons can be used by combatants and other fighters? And, who should never be a target during military operations? We will also look into the concept of protected persons, and you will find out how IHL affords protection to the sick and wounded, medical personal, detainees, children, journalists and other persons who are not - or not anymore - fighting. At the end of this course, you are introduced to the different implementation and enforcement mechanisms that aim to increase respect for IHL. Here, you are invited to think critically whether IHL works!

Throughout this course you will benefit from a mix of theory and practice, which is at the heart of the vision and mandate of the Kalshoven-Gieskes Forum. You can participate for instance in an ongoing case study where drones are flying over the fictitious country Arfula, and detainees are locked up in tiny cells. Or, you can join our discussions about IHL success stories and the major IHL challenges we face today, with distinguished speakers from the International Committee of the Red Cross and US Naval War College! This course is free to join and to participate in. There is the possibility to get a verified certificate for the course, which is a paid option. If you want a certificate, but are unable to pay for it, you can request financial aid via Coursera.

Welcome to this course!
It is great that you are joining us! In this course you will get a deep insight into the law that governs armed conflict. Before you start with “International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice”, we invite you to first take a look around the course content. As you will notice, this MOOC starts with an introduction module in order to help you study successfully in an online environment, and to familiarize you with international humanitarian law. If you encounter any difficulties while studying, please let us know in the forum. For technical difficulties or questions regarding the course certificate, you can always contact the Coursera Learner Helpdesk. We truly hope that you will enjoy this course. Good luck!

Introduction to International Humanitarian Law
In the first week, we will introduce you to the basic concepts of IHL, its history and place in the international legal order. We will discuss two different areas of IHL, “Hague law” and “Geneva law” respectively, and its main legal instruments. At the end, we will look at armed conflict and the protection of war victims from a human rights law perspective, in an engaging discussion with Prof. Helen Duffy.

Conflict classification
In this second week, we will study the scope of application of IHL. IHL regulates armed conflict, and therefore we will start by exploring the two different types of armed conflicts: international and non-international armed conflicts (IACs and NIACs). We will also look at the different rules that apply to each type of conflict. In this module, we will furthermore discover special situations of conflict, like belligerent occupation, foreign intervention and NIAC-spill over, which can impact the character of a conflict. At the end of this week we will touch upon situations below the armed conflict threshold, and Prof. Robin Geiss will tell us all about the so-called “global war on terror”.

Conduct of hostilities
In this week, we will look through the eyes of combatants and other fighters, and learn how military operations should be conducted. We will familiarize ourselves with the most important principles that need to be applied on the battlefield including those of distinction, proportionality, precautions and the prohibition of unnecessary suffering. We will discover that civilians who refrain from hostilities should never be targeted. At the end of this module we will see that IHL also sets limits to the weapons that can be used by combatants, and Prof. Michael Schmitt will share his viewpoint on whether armed drones and other modern technologies like cyber warfare are lawful under IHL.

Protection of persons
In this module we will look through the eyes of sick and wounded soldiers, detainees, enemy civilians and vulnerable persons in conflict, including children and women. We will discover how IHL safeguards persons who are not - or not anymore - fighting. Together, we will find out that each person should be treated humanely; that detainees should receive water and food; and that young children should never be recruited by the military. At the end of this module, Vincent Bernard from the ICRC will discuss with us the biggest challenges to protect persons who refrain from fighting, and will give us an insight into various IHL success stories across the globe.

Implementation and enforcement
In this final module, we will look into the implementation and enforcement of IHL, which is crucial to increase respect for IHL. After discussing different enforcement methods, we will highlight two methods: Demands for compensation and criminal prosecutions. Here, we will learn how war victims can claim compensation and how States and International Courts and Tribunals can initiate criminal prosecutions for war crimes when serious violations of IHL have been committed. At the end of this module, Jeroen van den Boogaard from the Netherlands Defense Academy will explain what the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as well as the military can do in order to make wars more humane. He will also inform us what everyone can do to increase respect for IHL

Taught by
Robert Heinsch, Giulia Pinzauti , Emma Irving and Cinny Buys
First release
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