RUG: International Law in Humanitarian Action

  • Course description

    International law provides the guidelines for states and other non-state actors to operate on the international arena. Although international law is mainly aimed at regulating the conduct of states in a consensual way, it has developed in the last 60 years an impressive amount of rules that recognize the growing role for organizations, groups and individuals operating in the humanitarian sphere. New rules guiding the way states should behave, and protecting individuals and vulnerable groups have been adopted, shaping international law further into a legal framework that, albeit different from the national legal order, enables actors in humanitarian action to provide assistance in situations of conflict or disaster.
    The course aims at providing a general overview of international law with a particular emphasis on human rights law and international humanitarian law.
  • Main themes

    Introduction to International Law.
    International Law norms.
    Human Rights and Disaster Relief.
    International Humanitarian Law.
    Protection of civilians and relief personnel.
  • Learning outcomes

    Learning outcomes of the NOHA network for International Law in HA:
    Acquire a good understanding of the basic concepts of International Law.
    To be able to identify different aspects of International Law and its implications for humanitarian action.
    To develop the ability to apply key legal instruments.
    To develop the principal skills for applying mechanisms of dispute settlement.
    To be able to convince as far as legal argumentation in HA is concerned.
    To obtain a clear understanding of the limits in applicability of International Law.
    To develop the capacity to introduce personal responsibility.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

  • Assessment methods and criteria

    The exam will consist of a number of essay questions based on the various topics discussed during the course. Please be aware that in order to be able to do a second chance exam if you need to, you should come to the first chance exam and attempt to answer the exam questions. In the event you are not able to attend the first chance exam you need to demonstrate a valid reason for non-attendance, such as a certificate from a medical doctor. No-shows without a valid reason forfeit the possibility of doing the second chance exam and you will have to redo the course again.

    The exam will try to assess the passive knowledge of the contents of the course, and also the applicability of this knowledge to a case type of situation. More specific, the criteria of assessment entail the degree of knowledge international law in general (including the concepts of sources of international law, subjects of international law, state responsibility and jurisdiction, the use of force under international law, human rights law, the rules about nonintervention under international law and those pertaining to international humanitarian law), as it is relevant to humanitarian action in particular, and the degree of skill in applying this to a concrete situation.

    Grading of the exam will take place based on the following criteria:
    - Correct understanding of the relevant concepts of the branches of international law discussed during the lectures (f.e. statehood, state responsibility, immunity of state, international legal personality, self-defence, vertical/horizontal effect of human rights, positive and negative obligations, proportionality and necessity, precaution, combatant, etc.): this entails explaining the concepts, providing examples, and where necessary referring to relevant treaty articles and case law

    - Correctly applying these concepts to concrete situations
  • Required reading

    International Law by Jan Klabbers
    Recommended (non-mandatory books) are:
    - International Law by Malcolm Shaw (Cambridge University Press);
    - International Law and Humanitarian Assistance by Hans-Joachim Heintze and Andrej Zwitter [eds.] (Springer, 2011).

Last updated: 15 November 2016

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