Title: Accountability for violations of International Humanitarian Law: An introduction to the legal consequences stemming from violations of international humanitarian law
Date of publication: October 2013
International humanitarian law (IHL) contains a set of basic rules designed to protect basic human dignity in the most difficult of circumstances: war. When addressing violations of IHL, it is important to ask “what are the legal consequences when these important rules are broken?”
International law remains less developed than domestic legal systems with respect to enforcement of the law.) However, it is important to remember that under international law, both states and individuals can be held accountable in different ways for violations of IHL.
While primary responsibility for the enforcement of IHL during armed conflict rests with the warring parties themselves, third states also have obligations under international law. This includes the obligation to takes measures to ensure respect of the law. In the case of violations reaching the threshold of serious violations of IHL and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, third States have an obligation to search for and prosecute the perpetrators. In addition to the third state responsibility regime under the Geneva Conventions, general rules on state responsibility also apply during armed conflict.
These rules are particularly important when dealing with behavior that offends peremptory norms of international law because international obligations of non-assistance and nonrecognition may apply.
Finally it should be remembered that crimes are ultimately committed by individuals. Those who commit serious violations of IHL and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions may be held individually responsible in criminal trials.