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Unit IV.  International Humanitarian Law
A Case to Consider

What would you do if you found a wounded enemy soldier left to die?


Henry Dunant (1828 – 1910)

In 1859, a Swiss businessman named Henry Dunant happened upon the scene of the battle of Solferino in northern Italy. Dunant discovered that French and Austrian forces had left the wounded unattended on the battlefield. Shocked by the misery he observed, he organized voluntary medical relief for these victims of war.

When Dunant returned to Geneva, he helped organize the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the founding agent of what is today the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Dunant and the ICRC then drafted and lobbied for a document that became the 1864 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Victims of War. This treaty designated war wounded and the medical personnel who cared for them as neutral,
so they would no longer be targets.

The treaty became the first of a series of treaties for various victims of war. Today these related treaties make up the core of what is called international humanitarian law. In addition to these legal protections for victims of war, as of 2005 there were 182 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world. The core mission of these societies is to provide disaster relief, whether in war or natural disasters.

All of this traces back to the efforts of one Swiss citizen — Henry Dunant.

Exploring Humanitarian Law:
Forced from Home
(a student film)

How can war be more humane or less humane? Why even try?


In this unit, you’ll learn about international laws and agreements created to uphold basic human rights even in times of war.
Hague Law
Geneva Law


Henry Dunant
Humanitarian Law University of Minnesota
International Committee of the Red Cross
Exploring Humanitarian Law (ICRC)
Accountability in War (ICRC)

Unit III. Human Rights
in International Law