Definition of Humanitarian Law, History, Principles and Legal Basis

Definition of Humanitarian Law – Humanity is the most important part of social life because without discriminating against status, race, religion, skin color, etc., humanity can unite every difference that exists in this world. However, the reality has turned around because there are still many humanitarian cases that are spread all over the world and there are even some perpetrators who have committed crimes against humanity to this day.

Therefore there is a law that addresses existing humanitarian issues in order to optimize every other human life and for the common good. The law is commonly referred to as humanitarian law which is a guideline for addressing every humanitarian problem in the world. Humanitarian law specifically tries to address issues related to war, ceasefires between conflicting countries and neutral countries to formally discuss peace to protect the right to life of civilians.

So, for all of you Readers who want to learn more about humanitarian issues and are interested in learning about international humanitarian law, in this discussion we have summarized various relevant information that discusses in full about international humanitarian law which you can listen to at home. or wherever Readers are.

You can see a further discussion regarding the definition of humanitarian law below!

Definition of Humanitarian Law

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), often called the Law of Armed Conflict (in Indonesian,:International Humanitarian Law) is a body of law consisting of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Convention and subsequent treaties, jurisprudence and customary international law.

International humanitarian law defines the behavior and responsibilities of belligerent States, neutral States and persons involved in war, viz. among themselves and to protected persons, usually civilians.

HHI is binding on the countries that are bound by the relevant agreements of the Act. There were also several common unwritten rules of war, many of which were examined at the Nuremberg War Trials. More broadly, these unwritten rules also define a set of permissive rights (opening rights) as well as a set of behavioral prohibitions for belligerent states to deal with illegal troops or non-signees. Violations of international humanitarian law are known as war crimes.

International humanitarian law distinguishes between international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts. This split has been widely criticized.

The difference between the terms HHI and martial law is only in the emphasis. HVR emphasizes the impact of war on humanity, protecting war victims from unnecessary injury or suffering, and preventing grave and widespread harm. At the same time, martial law places more emphasis on jurisprudence and the conduct of war, in terms of the extent to which the law applies when the war begins. However, the essence of martial law is the need to protect civilians. According to JG Starke, the term HHI is more frequently used today in accordance with historical developments.

Definition of Humanitarian Law According to Experts

1. Jean Pictet

Who wrote the book “On the Principles of International Humanitarian Law”. In his book, Pictet divides humanitarian law into two main groups; the explanation is as follows:

Military emergency, which is further divided into two parts, namely:

  • The Hague Laws or laws which also regulate the ways and means of war
  • Geneva laws or laws protecting victims of war.

Human Rights Law

Pictet then provides a definition of humanitarian law as follows:

“International humanitarian law in its broadest sense comprises all international provisions, both written and customary, which guarantee respect for the individual and his well-being.”

Pictet uses the term martial law in two ways, namely the actual law of war, namely The Hague Law; and humanitarian law in its truest sense (actually called humanitarian law), namely the Law of Geneva.

2. Geza Herczegh

Arguing that international humanitarian law is limited to Geneva law, therefore Herczegh formulates humanitarian law as follows:

“Part of the rules of international law designed to protect individuals in armed conflict. Its place is next to the norm of warfare, closely related to it but clearly distinguishable because its goals and spirit are different.

3. Esbjorn Rosenblad, who distinguishes:

Law of Armed Conflict, namely laws that regulate, for example:

  • A. the beginning and end of the conflict;
  • people living in the occupied territories;
  • Relations between warring and neutral nations.
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Martial law now has a narrower meaning than the law of armed conflict, namely for example.

  • A. methods and means of war;
  • combatant status;
  • Protection of the sick, prisoners of war and civilians.

Unlike Herczegh, Rosenblad also incorporates under international humanitarian law that part of the law of The Hague which deals with the methods and means of war, along with the Law of Geneva.

According to Rosenblad, it is this law of war that the ICRC calls “international humanitarian law that applies to armed conflicts”. From this it can be concluded that, according to Rosenblad, international humanitarian law is synonymous with the law of war, while the law of war itself is part of the law of armed conflict.

4. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja

In his lecture on March 26, 1981, he explained that what is called Humanitarian Law is part of Military Law which regulates provisions for the protection of war victims; deviate from the laws of war governing war itself and from everything related to war, such as prohibited weapons.

On another occasion, Prof. Mochtar also said that legal provisions or the Geneva Conventions were identical or equivalent to humanitarian laws or agreements; while martial law or the Hague Convention regulates warfare.

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja divided the martial law into two parts:

  • Jus ad bellum, namely the law of war, regulates how a country has the right to use armed force;
  • Ius in bello, namely the law that applies in war, is further divided into:
  1. a) Laws governing war (warfare). This section is often referred to as the Hague Act.
  2. The law protects victims of war. This is often referred to as the Law of Geneva.

After making this division, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja was of the opinion that humanitarian law “is part of the law that regulates provisions for the protection of war victims, in contrast to military law, which regulates war itself and everything related to the implementation of war.”

5. GPH. Haryomataram

GPH. Haryomataram divides humanitarian law into two main rules, namely:

  1. the Law on Methods and Means of War (Laws of The Hague);
  2. Act on the Protection of Combatants and Civilians from the Consequences of War (Laws of Geneva).

6. Pantap (Permanent Committee) Humanitarian Law

The Standing Committee on Humanitarian Law of the Republic of Indonesia (Pantap), the Ministry of Law and Legislation formulates as follows:

“Humanitarian law as a whole is well-written international principles, rules and regulations.

History of Humanitarian Law

Humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, has the same line of development as human defense. Humanitarian law began in the 19th century after the end of the world war. Since then, countries agreed to make rules based on bitter experience to prevent them from going to war.

Humanitarian law represents the balance that prevails in the world and supports world stability, the term humanitarian law or international humanitarian law is fully applied in armed conflicts, which then becomes the law of armed conflicts, this term appears with IGC experts. the strengthening and development of the armed conflict occurred. 1971 in the new field of international law. The purpose of international humanitarian law is not to prohibit war, but to limit or limit the areas in which wars occur for humanitarian reasons.

International humanitarian law is a body of law created for humanitarian reasons to limit the effects of armed conflict. These laws protect those who are not or are no longer involved in the conflict and limit the ways and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is another term for the laws of war and armed conflict.

Military law or commonly called international humanitarian law is one of the oldest branches of international law, because humanitarian law does not avoid its development with human civilization. In line with that, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja revealed that the laws of war are as old as humans themselves.

In its development from century to century, humanitarian law developed very clearly before the existence of humanitarian law. Not yet in the form of rules, still limited to the way that is called culture. it plays a very important role in maintaining the balance of the world.

Humanitarian law became known in the 19th century and many countries, based on their bitter past experiences, agreed to develop rules. Humanitarian law also represents the balance of the world, with humanitarian law there are rules in war. In general, the rules of war are embodied in rules of conduct, morality, and religion.

Laws to protect certain groups during armed conflict can be traced historically in all countries or world civilizations in various civilizations such as the Roman civilization which is known for the concept of just war where there are some groups that cannot be attacked as civilians, as well as children and women.

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Humanitarian law has legal sources that regulate the rules of war, one of which is listed in Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, namely:

  • General and special international agreements, which are rules that are expressly recognized by the international community;
  • International custom as a sign of general practice recognized as law;
  • General legal principles recognized by civilized nations;
  • Court rulings and lessons from highly qualified experts from various countries as additional legal sources for determining rule of law.

In addition to the provisions mentioned in Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, there are two main rules, namely the Geneva Convention for the Protection of War Victims and the Hague Convention on Military Methods and Means. also other applicable agreements, namely:

1. The Hague Convention

As mentioned above, this agreement regulates the ways and means of war. This rule was derived from the 1899 Hague Convention and also issued three declarations from the Convention, namely:

  • Convention I concerning the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes;
  • Convention II Concerning the Laws and Customs of Land Warfare;
  • Convention III Adapting the Principles of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864 concerning Naval Warfare;

Namely, the declaration issued this year prohibits the use of projectiles that inflate the human body with dum-dum, the shooting of projectiles and explosives from balloons, as well as the use of projectiles that cause asphyxiation and toxic gases.

2. Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention for the Protection of War Victims of 1949 consists of four conventions and three additional protocols, namely:

  • Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 12 August 1949
  • Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Armed Forces Personnel, 12 August 1949
  • Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 12 August 1949)
  • Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, 12 August 1949
  • Of the four treaties that set international legal standards for the humanitarian treatment of war victims, the single term “Geneva Convention” usually refers to the 1949 treaty.

In the post-war negotiations, three conventions were subsequently renewed (1864, 1906, 1929) and the basic rights of prisoners of war (civilians and soldiers) were comprehensively included in the Fourth Geneva Convention. military zones Congress ratified in 1949 in full or with credit for 196 states. Apart from that, the Geneva Convention also defines the rights and protections of non-combatants.

Principles of Humanitarian Law

HHI has 3 (three) main principles, namely:

  • The principle of military interests, meaning that the parties to the dispute have the right to use violence to subdue their opponents in order to achieve the goals and success of the war.
  • The humanitarian principle means that the parties to the dispute are obliged to respect humanity while they are prohibited from using violence which can cause excessive loss or unnecessary suffering.
  • The principle of chivalry (chivalry), that is, in war honesty must come first. The use of malicious means, all kinds of tricks and insidious methods is prohibited.

Meanwhile, according to Ambarwati, HHI has 8 (eight) main principles, namely:

  • Humanity, especially non-combatants, must be kept away from the battlefield as far as possible and injury must be minimized. Hobbies that can be used as targets in battle are military targets.
  • Proportional, meaning that every attack in a military operation must be preceded by actions that ensure that the attack does not cause excessive casualties and damage.
  • Differentiation, e.g. in armed conflict combatants and civilians must be separated from one another.
  • Prohibition causes unnecessary suffering, which is the limiting principle. In other words, this principle refers to the methods and means of war. For example, the prohibition on the use of poison, bullets, biological weapons and others.
  • The difference between jus ad bellum and jus in bello.
  • The minimum provisions regarding HHI are the 1949 Geneva Convention.
  • The responsibility to implement and uphold HHI means that the government and citizens of the country must respect HHI.


This is a brief discussion of the meaning of humanitarian law. The discussion this time does not only discuss the definition of humanitarian law, but also further discusses the opinions of experts, history, and the principles and basis of humanitarian law.

Understanding the meaning of humanitarian law gives us additional knowledge about various forms of regulations that try to solve humanitarian problems by calling for a ceasefire and making peace between countries internationally.