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Humanitarian Law (IL915)


This module aims to consider the increasingly complex inter-relationship between law and humanitarianism. In tracking changing ideas about 'natural' disasters and international intervention, it first focuses on the key questions that these events can raise: do law, politics, and humanitarianism live up to the tests posed by disaster and crisis? In what ways might disasters be considered injustices provoking a legal response? Does law have a positive role to play or does it act as a burden? What legal and political agency have disaster victims asserted or been denied? And what do disasters reveal about poverty, inequality, and social injustice through the operation or absence of law?

The module also aims to address the evolution of the laws of war (universally called International Humanitarian Law) and the specific regimes that are supposed to govern the conduct of warfare, 'humanitarian' intervention and post conflict occupation and reconstruction.


The module will consist of 5 days sessions.

The main topics covered are:

  • Introducing the concepts of humanitarian law
  • Humanitarian law after conflict
  • Natural disaster and law
  • Modern military occupation
  • Development and humanitarianism

Written assessment

Illustrative syllabus

Introducing the concept(s) of humanitarian law

Over the course of the day we will explore the many dimensions of humanitarian law – we will consider its history rooted in the 19th century response to the suffering in war, to its contemporary interpretation as a framing mechanism for international action in relation to natural disasters, military interventions and the conduct in warfare. We will also be examining the various concepts applicable to this legal arena and seeing how to apply such critique through case studies.

Humanitarian law after conflict

In the light of Germany post 1945, we will look at the many ways in which intervention in a ravaged society as an antidote to totalitarianism and justice has been undertaken. By exploring the legal and political interaction in the affairs of a defeated nation, we will examine how law might dictate the nature of humanitarian response.

Natural Disaster and Law

Hurricane Katrina produced devastating effects but some sectors of society suffered considerably more than others. Tracing the unequal consequences of natural disaster and examining how law fails or attempts to redress this imbalance will be necessary to determine how law operates in such an environment.

Modern military occupation

Modern conflicts tend to be extremely complex and framed by a multiplicity of international legal regimes. Navigating one’s way through these in the context of regime change or occupation is equally difficult. We will look at the record of the US and UK intervention in Iraq and compare this with the UN’s Responsibility to Protect agenda and other conflicts such as in Syria. This will include considering how political opposition to state action may or may not inform the operation of humanitarian law.

Development and humanitarianism

The unintended consequences of humanitarian operations will be considered in the light of the Haiti earthquake case. How do long term remedies for enduring problems of under-development co-exist with the demand for immediate action to relieve suffering resulting from some disaster or sequence of disasters? How does law gauge/interfere with the behaviour of NGOs and states?

Module convenor

Dr Daniel Lowe


Term 3 (Summer) 2023-24
22/04/2024 (Thurs-Fri, week 30)
29/04/2024 (Tues-Thurs, week 31)

Dates to be confirmed


SH2.05 Senate House


For 15 CATS
Written assessment (4000 words)

For 20 CATS
Written assessment (5000 words)