The questions whether, when and how international human rights law applies to the activities of armed forces during armed conflict have been the subject of much discussion and litigation in the past couple of decades. It is now clear “that the protection offered by human rights conventions does not cease in case of armed conflict . . .” (International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Israeli Wall in Palestine (2004), para. 106).
However, what has been less clear is when those protections apply, especially when the state concerned is acting outside its territory, and how human rights law is to be applied in armed conflict. With regard to the latter question, one of the key issues is the relationship between human rights law, as it applies in conflict, and international humanitarian law as the law specifically designed for application in conflict. In the literature, and even in the case law, most attention has focussed on the when question (the question of applicability of human rights law) rather than the how question (the method and mode of application of human rights law). However, given that it is undoubtedly the case that there are circumstances when human rights law applies in armed conflict, even extraterritorially, the focus on the former set of questions, has led to an unfortunate lack of guidance as to how to apply (and to think about the application) of human rights law in situations of conflict.
Towards the end of last year, Oxford University Press published the Practitioners’ Guide to Human Rights in Law Armed Conflict (Murray, Akande, Garraway, Hampson, Lubell & Wilmhurst), a book that arises out of a project carried out by Chatham House under the leadership of Elizabeth Wilmhurst. The aim of this book is to provide guidance not only on when human rights law applies in situations of conflict, but, more importantly, on how it is to be applied. As the Introduction to the book sets out, “The book is concerned primarily with giving guidance to the armed forces for the conduct and preparation of military operations.” (p. 2) However, it should be of assistance to all those who have to think about the application of human rights law in conflict – government officials, lawyers appearing before courts, members of non-governmental organizations and judges.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part (Chapters 1-4) provides an overview of human rights law, when it applies extraterritorially (ch. 3) and its relationship to the law of armed conflict (ch. 4). The second part (Chapters 5-17) provides detailed guidance on how human rights law applies to a range of issues that arise in armed conflict, eg the conduct of hostilities and targeting (ch. 5); weapons (ch. 7); prisoners of war and internment (ch. 8); occupation (ch. 10); and cyber operations (ch. 15). Read the rest of this entry…