International Humanitarian Law (Foundation Course)

11 February-24 March 2015 (E03115)Register for this course (page opens in new window)
Instructor: Dr. Gerd Oberleitner

This e-learning course offers a basic introduction to international humanitarian law (or the law of armed conflict). It is a foundation course for other HREA e-learning courses in this area and serves as a stepping stone for developing expertise in specialised areas of the law of armed conflict. The course examines how international humanitarian law guides the conduct of hostilities, restrains the use of force, mitigates the consequences of warfare and protects civilians in international and non-international armed conflicts and in situations of occupation. The course also discusses the role of international criminal law and international human rights law in armed conflicts as well as ways and means to enforce adherence to international humanitarian law.

Learners will acquire basic knowledge on the development, scope and purpose of international humanitarian law and on the basic protective principles (such as distinction between civilian objects and military objectives, military necessity, proportionality, the prohibition of non-discriminatory weapons, and precautions in targeting). They will examine the difference between international and non-international armed conflicts and the concept of lawful combatancy and learn about the law of occupation. They will also learn about ways to ensure adherence to IHL, including the role of the ICRC and international criminal justice.

Course structure

The certificate course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, interaction among students and the instructor in the Learning Forum, an assignment, quizzes and webinars, and is offered over a 6-week period. The course will integrate active and participatory learning approaches within activities and assignments, with an emphasis on reflective and collaborative learning.

Course outline

Week 1: Development, scope and purpose of international humanitarian law
Week 2: Basic principles: the conduct of hostilities and the protection of civilians
Week 3: International and non-international armed conflicts
Week 4: Lawful and unlawful combatants and direct participation in hostilities
Week 5: The law of occupation
Week 6: Enforcing international humanitarian law

About the instructor: Gerd Oberleitner

Dr. Gerd Oberleitner is professor of international law at the University of Graz (Austria), where he works at the Institute of International Law and International Relations. His research interests are primarily in international human rights law, humanitarian law, human security and the law of international organisations. From 1998 to 1999 he served as Legal Adviser in the human rights and humanitarian law department of the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and has in subsequent years joined the Austrian governmental delegation to sessions of the (then) UN Human Rights Commission. From 1999 to 2002 he was the Executive Secretary of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC) in Graz. From 2002 to 2004 he was Lecturer in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and subsequently Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights until 2007. He was visiting professor/scholar at the University of Prishtina, the European Inter-University Centre Venice and the Université du Quebéc à Montréal. For more than fifteen years, he has taught international law and international human rights law in a number of institutions and summer schools and in the Venice and Sarajevo Master Programmes on Human Rights and Democratisation. He has been an instructor for HREA e-learning courses since 2003. His publications include Global Human Rights Institutions: Between Remedy and Ritual (Cambridge, Polity, 2007) and Human Rights in Armed Conflict – Law, Practice, Policy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2015).

Who should apply

The course is aimed at university students of international law, international relations, politics and other areas, NGO staff members, humanitarian actors, educators and professionals who want to gain basic knowledge in the field of international humanitarian law. Basic knowledge in international law is an advantage but not a prerequisite. This course is recommended to those who would like to participate in other HREA e-learning courses but lack sufficient background and knowledge of international humanitarian law. Candidates should have a good written command of English and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants. The maximum number of course participants is 25. It also possible to audit the course. A Certificate of Participation will be awarded upon successful completion of the course.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575 (after 1 December 2014: US$ 675); tuition for auditors: US$ 215 (US$ 250 after 1 December 2014). Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer (additional fee applies) and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available. Payments are due upon registration.

How to register

Register for this course (page opens in new window). Early registration and payment deadline: 1 December 2014. However, registrations are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. Please be advised that courses generally fill up quickly!

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