Introduction: Overview


This exploration enables teachers to learn about students’ attitudes and the extent of their knowledge: how much they know about war and the efforts to limit the suffering caused by war. It sets the tone with an open discussion in which teachers and students explore difficult questions together. There are no ‘right answers’ at this stage, and participants are not expected to be well-informed on the subject.

The optional 15-minute activity “Why not outlaw war?” can be used in this exploration, if time permits, or in any other exploration in which the question arises.

This course is one 45-minute session.


  • To be aware of central questions underlying international humanitarian law (IHL)
  • To be aware that there are no easy answers to some questions that may come up while exploring IHL
  • To construct a preliminary definition of human dignity

Key Ideas

  • The concept of human dignity is central to humanitarian law and will be revisited throughout EHL.
  • Some of the questions that arise in EHL have no single right answer or indeed any easy answers. One of the aims of EHL is to identify such questions and to explore them.


In the Methodology Guide, review teaching methods 1 (Discussion), 2 (Brainstorming) and workshop 1 (“Introducing Exploring Humanitarian Law to students”).

If possible, view the relevant chapter of the teacher video (Leading discussion: Introductory exploration) and the relevant chapter of the training film for teachers (Introductory exploration).



Introduction and setting the tone | 5 minutes

Tell students that the purpose of this discussion is only to gauge what they think as they begin to study IHL. Reassure them that no one is expected to be well-informed on the subject, and that no one has to speak if he or she is uncomfortable about any issue that might come up.

Establish the rules for discussion:

  • Listen carefully to others, and wait until they have finished before you speak;
  • Feel free to disagree with other views presented, but treat your fellow students and their opinions with respect.

  • 2

    Start the discussion | 5 minutes

    International humanitarian law aims to protect life and human dignity. Therefore, the concept of human dignity is central to Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL).


    Continue the discussion | 25 minutes

    Choose other questions to continue the discussion. Encourage students to give reasons for their views and to use concrete examples.


    Close | 10 minutes

    Conclude the discussion by linking the concept of human dignity to armed conflict.

    Possible question:

  • In what ways might armed conflict affect the human dignity of both civilians and combatants?
  • Have students work together to develop a definition of the term ‘human dignity.’ Record this definition and post it, so that it is available for the duration of the programme.