International Humanitarian Law

  • A classroom of children learning about International Humanitarian Law

Inspiring and Engaging the Next Generation

Even in war there are limits. The Geneva Conventions protect civilians, prisoners of war and wounded soldiers. Humanitarian principles are at the core of the Red Cross mission; wartime humanitarian action was at the heart of the creation of the Red Cross. Continuing this work requires inspiring and engaging the next generation. The American Red Cross helps people in the United States to understand and respect international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles.

The Geneva Conventions

On August 12, 1949, the four Geneva Conventions in their current form came into being. Now adopted by every nation, these laws place basic limits on how war is waged – protecting civilians, wounded and sick combatants, and prisoners of war. They are the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and are forever linked to the Red Cross. In fact, the American Red Cross’s Congressional Charter specifies that the organization is a "Federally chartered instrumentality of the United States," and charges us with carrying out the "purposes of the Geneva Conventions" dating back to the original conventions in 1864. It is the duty of the American Red Cross, on behalf of the people and the government of the United States, to help to ensure that these humanitarian principles are widely understood and respected.

Red Cross chapters around the country offer educational programs in their communities on the principles of international humanitarian law. Through the Exploring Humanitarian Law curriculum, the Red Cross also promotes international humanitarian law to youth and their educators. The curriculum’s adaptable resources give teachers easy-to-use information to make lessons about human life and dignity come alive in the classroom.

Take an International Humanitarian Law Course at Your Red Cross Chapter

Want to learn more about humanitarian law in an informal classroom environment? American Red Cross chapters across the country offer free classes on international humanitarian law. Contact your local chapter to learn more. The Humanity in the Midst of War - Introduction to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) course raises awareness about the Geneva Conventions, the basic rules of international humanitarian law, and the role of the Red Cross during armed conflict. Through a hands-on approach utilizing group activities, class discussion and compelling multimedia, this course invites participants to reflect on their images and perceptions of armed conflict and to explore the powerful and fundamental concept of human dignity even in the midst of war.

The American Red Cross supports a network of volunteer IHL instructors around the country that are trained to teach a four-hour introductory course. Contact us at to learn more.

Educating Future Humanitarians – Secondary Schools and Higher Education

War is complicated. Students need the skills to understand when conflict intersects with the rights and protections of people—at home and abroad.

The Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) program is a flexible toolkit of teaching resources that helps educators teach their students about these important concepts. Aligned with social studies requirements around the country, EHL provides teachers with an inventory of free activities and lesson plans that can easily be integrated into existing classes. High-quality materials, including news accounts, photos, letters, videos, case studies and interactive projects bring real events and people to life, helping teachers connect lessons of the past with events of today. Since 2002, the materials have been introduced to schools in nearly 50 countries around the world.

Through EHL, students build analytical skills as they explore different perspectives on the rules of armed conflict, the effects war has on human life and their personal connections to it. They grapple with complex questions that do not have easy answers.

The subject of IHL is relevant to a wide variety of disciplines and courses of study for all age levels: Political Science, Pre-law courses, History, Global Studies, International Studies, Social Work, Human Rights, Social Justice Studies, Military Science, Anthropology, Psychology, American Studies, Religious Studies, International Criminal Justice, and so much more.

The American Red Cross is also increasing its efforts to encourage the teaching of IHL in colleges and universities through new tools, resources and professional development opportunities.

Our educator trainings and workshops help you integrate EHL resources into your lessons while earning Continuing Education Units at the same time. Click here to learn more.