Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law: Challenges Ahead

August-Bebel-Str. 89, 14482 Potsdam
MenschenRechtsZentrum der Universität Potsdam
05.09.2019 - 07.09.2019
Norman Weiß

Back in 1949, and thus only one year after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the four Geneva Conventions were adopted, providing a strong signal for the New World Order created after 1945 with the United Nations. The UN not only combined as its goals the maintenance of peace and security and the protection of human rights, but also realistically recognized that succeeding generations had not yet been saved from the scourge of war.

It is against this background that the international humanitarian law („IHL“) and international human rights law („IHRL“) have continued to coexist as two distinct, but interrelated fields of international law ever since. Yet, both of these closely interrelated areas face new and indeed interwoven challenges, unforeseeable at the time of their adoption, and they accordingly need continuous adjustment to these challenges. The fundamentally changed character of armed conflicts since the adoption of the Geneva Convention and their Additional Protocols implies and requires an ongoing review of the interpretation and implementation of IHL. What is more, however, is that the relevance of IHRL has been continuously growing over the last 70 years, in particular as far as its impact on the interpretation and application of IHL, and vice versa, is concerned. Hence, the time has come for stocktaking.

The 2019 Potsdam AHRI Conference will therefore provide AHRI members with an ample opportunity to discuss the relevance of IHRL in times of armed conflict no longer discernible at first sight. For instance, unmanned weapons and cyber warfare are raising fundamental issues of both IHL and IHRL, especially given that the axiomatic distinction between combatants and fighters on the one hand and civilians on the other might be further blurred. It is these manifold other developments that are raising fundamental ethic, legal, and political issues at the borderline between IHL and IHRL, and that require answers apt for the needs of the 21st century.


1. Historical Development

This track wants to make use of a historical perspective on the two bodies of law. How did they evolve over time and influence each other, which actors influenced the development under which circumstances?

2. General Questions

In this track, we welcome submissions discussing implications on the doctrine of international law. Do we face a fragmentation with consequences for the interpretation of the two bodies of law? Or, on the contrary, will a common framework emerge?

3. Institutions: Who provides substantial interpretations of the applicable law?

Human rights bodies and courts tend to favour an extensive interpretation of human rights and, increasingly provide interpretations of international law from such an extended human rights perspective. What are the consequences for IHL and the traditionally driving forces in that area, the ICRC and States, as well as for the ICC?

4. Specific Situations

International and non-international armed conflicts, as well as peace operations may threaten human rights and thus lead to specific challenges for international human rights law. Informational warfare and cyber activities did add a new dimension.

5. Specific Groups and Rights

This track welcomes submissions looking at the implications of situations of armed conflicts for vulnerable groups such as women or children, refugees or detainees. A second focus may shed light on specific human rights such as freedom of religion and freedom of information that may be infringed during armed conflicts or situations of occupation.

6. Jus Post Bellum

Peace processes do not end once a peace agreement has been signed. Post-conflict situations need specific investments in order to achieve a lasting peace. Are there implications on the human rights of all groups of the population? In this section, we might also deal with questions of transitional justice.


Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law: Challenges Ahead, 05.09.2019 – 07.09.2019 Potsdam, in: H-Soz-Kult, 14.03.2019, <>.