Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Protecting people in war

The idea of international humanitarian law (IHL) is simple: even wars have laws.

Also known as the laws of war or the laws of armed conflict, IHL protects people who are not taking part in the fighting, such as civilians, wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. It also restricts choice of weapons and how they can be used.

To ensure they are useful in times of war, governments and Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world have the task of ensuring these rules are understood in times of peace. The best known of these rules are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.

International humanitarian law

The Geneva Conventions set out how soldiers and civilians should be treated during war. The global Red Cross and Red Crescent family hold unique positions under these Conventions. Learn more »

The emblems

These protective symbols are central to the laws of war. They mean 'Don't shoot - we are not part of the fight' in every language. Learn more »

Health care in danger

When these emblems are not respected, people die needlessly. Help us protect those who work under the protective emblems. Learn more »

IHL and you

We work with government, the military, humanitarian organisations and key sectors of the community – such as the medical, legal and media sectors – to highlight the importance of international humanitarian law. We also provide resources and a range of training courses to help you learn more about the laws of war and what they mean to you.