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4 General Principles of International Humanitarian Law

Dieter Fleck

From: The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law (4th Edition)

Edited By: Dieter Fleck

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 07 December 2023

Armed conflict — Belligerents — Weapons — Ius in bello

This chapter explains the general principles of international humanitarian law—i.e. the prohibition of unnecessary suffering; the prohibition of indiscriminate warfare; and the principle of humanity—in their application and interaction. The prohibition against maux superflus—that is, against weapons and materials causing excessive suffering—is an old principle. It is characterized by an intricate mixture of very definite prohibitions on certain specific categories of arms, on one hand, and a rather abstract prohibition on means of warfare which cause unnecessary suffering, on the other. The utmost protection of the civilian population is also an old concept. By the nineteenth century, legal practice had established the prohibition against indiscriminate warfare as a customary rule. The principle of humanity has not always played the definitive role in moderating belligerent conduct. Nevertheless, humanity was clearly a source of normative constraints on the waging of war.

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