International Humanitarian Law


International Humanitarian Law - Research Guide International Law

International Humanitarian Law, also known as the Laws of War or Law of Armed Conflict is the part of public international law that regulates international and non-international armed conflict. International Humanitarian Law consists of the rules applicable during the conflict. These rules also apply to a situation of occupation arising from armed conflict. The International Humanitarian Law rules can be found in both treaties and international customary law. The main objective of these rules is to provide protection to the civilian population and civilian objects as well as to those persons who are no longer taking part in the hostilities. In addition, International Humanitarian Law rules aim to restrict the methods and means of warfare used during the hostilities by the parties involved. The International Committee of the Red Cross, a non-governmental humanitarian organization with its headquarter in Geneva, is the primary institution for International Humanitarian Law. Established in 1863, the initiatives of the ICRC have greatly contributed to the development of international humanitarian law. The ICRC also monitors the implementation of International Humanitarian Law rules and norms.

This Guide is intended as a starting point for research on International Humanitarian Law. It provides a selection of the legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Manuals, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Bibliography section. There are also links to the PPL Catalogue inserted. The Library’s systematic index code, i.e., 211  and keyword International Humanitarian Law are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, the Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

The International Humanitarian Law Research Guide of the Peace Palace Library is updated regularly in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Library in Geneva.

Online publications released during January/February 2015

The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 19, No. 2, (24 February 2015), Special Issue: Legal and Ethical Implications of Drone Warfare (online access to full text only at library).

Sterio, Milena. “The Covert Use of Drones: How Secrecy Undermines Oversight and Accountability”, Albany Government Law Review, 8 (2015), No. 1, pp. 129-165.
Abstract: This Article will highlight one of the problematic aspect of the current American use of drones, which is secrecy. As will be argued below, because a large number of lethal strikes are conducted by covert C.I.A. operations, it is impossible to determine whether most strikes comply with relevant legal provisions of both …

Crootof, Rebecca, “The Varied Law of Autonomous Weapon Systems” (February 2015), in A. Williams and P. Scharre (eds.), NATO Allied Command Transformation, Autonomous Systems: Issues for Defence Policy Makers, 2015, Forthcoming.
Abstract: What law governs autonomous weapon systems? Those who have addressed this subject tend to focus on the law of armed conflict and debate whether it is sufficiently flexible to regulate such weaponry. But while it will undoubtedly be one of the more significant sources of states’ legal obligations, the international …

Crootof, Rebecca, “War, Responsibility, and Killer Robots” (February 2015), North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, 40 (2015), No. 4.
Abstract: Although many are concerned that autonomous weapon systems may make war ‘too easy,’ no one has addressed how their use may alter the distribution of the constitutional war power. Drones, cyber operations, and other technological advances in weaponry already allow the United States to intervene …

Glazier, David W., “The Drone – It’s in the Way that You Use it” (February 2015), in K. Fisk and J.M. Ramos (eds.), Preventive Force: Targeted Killing and Technology, New York University Press, Forthcoming ; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2015-02.
Abstract: The chapter argues that drone proponents generally fail to recognize limits on who can be hit within lawful target groups and that “signature strikes” are problematic in the unique factual context of the current conflicts. While acknowledging the difficulty in accurate casualty assessments, it contends that some …

Paust, Jordan J., “Human Rights on the Battlefield” (February 2015), George Washington International Law Review, 47 (2015), No. 4, Forthcoming; U of Houston Law Center No. 2015-A-3.
Abstract: Previously, the U.S. Executive made an astonishing claim that human rights law does not apply during an armed conflict. Others have claimed that even if human rights law generally applies it is trumped or displaced by applicable laws of war through operation of an alleged primacy of laws of war as so-called lex …

Heffes, Ezequiel, “Detentions by Armed Opposition Groups in Non-International Armed Conflicts: Towards a New Characterization of International Humanitarian Law” (February 2015), Journal of Conflict and Security Law, (2015), pp. 1-22.
Abstract: This article investigates a particular armed opposition groups’ behavior: detentions during hostilities. This is an important concern since these non-state actors repeatedly deprive persons of liberty during armed conflicts. Interestingly, international humanitarian law (IHL) does not explicitly address such actions, thus …

Rona, Gabor, “Is There a Way Out of the Non-International Armed Conflict Detention Dilemma?” (February 2015), International Law Studies: U.S. Naval War College, 91 (2015), No. 32.
Abstract: International humanitarian law (IHL) does not prohibit detention without charge or trial. So-called security detention is a well-established feature of war. On this point, there is no argument. Geneva Convention treaty provisions for international armed conflicts (IACs), or wars between States, explicitly recognize such …

Macak, Kubo, “Needle in a Haystack? Locating the Legal Basis for Detention in Non-International Armed Conflict” (January 2015). Israel Yearbook on Human Rights, 45 (2015), Forthcoming.
Abstract: The article examines the problem of the absence of an express legal basis to detain in the law of non-international armed conflict. It considers the attempts to locate the legal basis by way of logical inference either from a putative power to kill in non-international armed conflicts or from the power to detain in …

Schmitt, Michael N., “The Law of Cyber Targeting” (January 2015), Tallinn Paper No. 7.
Abstract: The Tallinn Papers are produced by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence to inform policy makers about cyber related issues. This paper examines the law that governs the use of cyber weapons and techniques on the battlefield. In particular, it address when such operations are subject to …

Heller, Kevin Jon, “The Use and Abuse of Analogy in IHL” (January 2015), in Jens Ohlin (ed.), Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict & Human Rights, Cambridge University Press, 2015, Forthcoming.
Abstract: It is a truism to say that conventional international humanitarian law (IHL) regulates international armed conflict (IAC) far more extensively than non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In IAC, conventional IHL authorizes both targeting and detention and carefully circumscribes their use. In NIAC, by contrast, …

Thomas, Bradan T., “Autonomous Weapon Systems: The Anatomy of Autonomy and the Legality of Lethality” (January 2015), Houston Journal of International Law, 37 (2015), No. 1.
Abstract: This comment explores the legal implications and predicted efficacy of autonomous weapon systems, as well as the effects that their use might have on both international humanitarian law and the conduct of hostilities. The defining feature of an autonomous weapon system is its capability of selecting and engaging …



Reference works




Periodicals, serial publications


New titles

Updated every Friday morning.

The Peace Palace Library has a collection of over a million publications. Each week, about six hundred new titles are added to our collection: books, articles, documents, online publications, etc. On this page, access is provided to this week’s new titles on International Humanitarian Law.

1. CCW draft protocol VI on cluster munitions - a step backwards
CCW draft protocol VI on cluster munitions - a step backwards / by Dr. Gro Nystuen. - [Oslo] : Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher, 2011. - 4 pages. - (FICHL policy brief series ; no. 5 (2011)) Includes bibliographical references. - 2011
Keywords: Cluster munitions, Protocols, Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurous or to have Indiscriminate Effects [Geneva, 10 October 1980], Disarmament, International humanitarian law, E-docs,

2. The Harmonization Project: Improving Compliance with the Law of War in Non-International Armed Conflict
The Harmonization Project: Improving Compliance with the Law of War in Non-International Armed Conflict / Bruce "Ossie" Oswald In: Columbia Journal of Transnational Law = ISSN 0010-1931: vol. 53, issue 1, page 105-113. - 2014
Keywords: Non-international armed conflicts, International humanitarian law, Compliance,

3. Children in Armed Conflicts
Children in Armed Conflicts / Edoardo Greppi. - Napoli : Jovene In: Studi in onore di Aldo Frignani : nuovi orizzonti del diritto comparato europeo e transnazionale / a cura di Gianmaria Ajani ... [et al.], ISBN 8824320635: (2011) - 2011
Keywords: Children, Armed conflicts, Human rights, International humanitarian law,

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  • Waschefort, G., International Law and Child Soldiers, Oxford, Hart, 2015.

    Waschefort, G., International Law and Child Soldiers, Oxford, Hart, 2015.

    This book commences with an analysis of the current state of child soldiering internationally. Thereafter the proscriptive content of contemporary norms on the prohibition of the use and recruitment of child soldiers is evaluated, so as to determine whether these norms are capable of better enforcement. An ‘issues-based’ approach is adopted, in terms of which no specific regime of law, such as international humanitarian law (IHL), is deemed dominant. Instead, universal and regional human rights law, international criminal law and IHL are assessed cumulatively, so as to create a mutually reinforcing web of protection. Ultimately, it is argued that the effective implementation of child soldier prohibitive norms does not require major changes to any entity or functionary engaged in such prevention; rather, it requires the constant reassessment and refinement of all such entities and functionaries, and here, some changes are suggested. International judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial entities and functionaries most relevant to child soldier prevention are critically assessed. Ultimately the conclusions reached are assessed in light of a case study on the use and recruitment of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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  • Turner Johnson, J., and E.D. Patterson (eds.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Military Ethics, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015.

    Turner Johnson, J., and E.D. Patterson (eds.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Military Ethics, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015.

    This Companion provides professionals who deal with military law and with international law on armed conflicts, with a comprehensive and authoritative state-of-the-art review of current research in the area of military ethics. Topics in this volume reflect both perennial and pressing contemporary issues in the ethics of the use of military force and are written by established professionals and respected commentators. Subjects are organized by three major perspectives on the use of military force: the decision whether to use military force in a given context, the matter of right conduct in the use of such force, and ethical responsibilities beyond the end of an armed conflict. Treatment of issues in each of these sections takes account of both present-day moral challenges and new approaches to these and the historical tradition of just war. Military ethics, as it has developed, has been a particularly Western concern and this volume reflects that reality. However, in a globalized world, awareness of similarities and differences between Western approaches and those of other major cultures is essential. For this reason the volume concludes with chapters on ethics and war in the Islamic, Chinese, and Indian traditions, with the aim of integrating reflection on these approaches into the broad consideration of military ethics provided by this volume

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  • Mehring, S., First Do No Harm: Medical Ethics in International Humanitarian Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2014.

    Mehring, S., First Do No Harm: Medical Ethics in International Humanitarian Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2014.

    Although working on the sidelines of armed conflicts, physicians are often at the centre of attention. First Do No harm: Medical Ethics in International Humanitarian Law was born from the occasionally controversial role of physicians in recent armed conflicts and the legal and ethical rules that frame their actions. While international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law provide a framework of rights and obligations that bind physicians in armed conflicts, the reference to ‘medical ethics’ in the laws of armed conflict adds an extra-legal layer. In analysing both the legal and the ethical framework for physicians in armed conflict, the book is invaluable to practitioners and legal scholars alike.

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  • Dinstein, Y., Non-International Armed Conflicts in International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    Dinstein, Y., Non-International Armed Conflicts in International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    This dispassionate analysis of the legal implications of non-international armed conflicts explores the rules regulating the conduct of internal hostilities, as well as the consequences of intervention by foreign States, the role of the Security Council, the effects of recognition, State responsibility for wrongdoing by both Governments and insurgents, the interface with the law of human rights and the notion of war crimes. The author addresses both conceptual and specific issues, such as the complexities of ‘failing’ States or the recruitment and use of child soldiers. He makes use of the extensive case law of international courts and tribunals, in order to identify and set out customary international law. Much attention is also given to the contents of available treaty texts (primarily, the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol II and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court): what they contain and what they omit.

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  • Barrat, C., Status of NGOs in International Humanitarian Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2014.

    Barrat, C., Status of NGOs in International Humanitarian Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2014.

    In Status of NGOs in International Humanitarian Law, Claudie Barrat examines the legal framework applicable to NGOs in situations of armed conflict.  The author convincingly demonstrates, contrary to convention, that in addition to the ICRC, the National Societies and the IFRC, numerous other NGOs referenced in humanitarian law treaties have a legal status in IHL and therefore legitimate claim to employ IHL provisions to respond to current challenges.  On the basis of clear and thorough definitions of these entities, Barrat argues that existing NGOs meeting stringent definition can benefit from customary rights and obligations in both international and non-international armed conflict

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  • Weill, S., The Role of National Courts in Applying International Humanitarian Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Weill, S., The Role of National Courts in Applying International Humanitarian Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

    International law is routinely applied in domestic courts. This can result in situations where the courts are being asked to rule on politically sensitive issues, especially issues which involve humanitarian actions. Domestic courts do not show a uniformity of approach in addressing cases concerning international humanitarian law, and can often be seen to differ markedly in their response. The book argues that different national courts demonstrate different functional roles in different countries. These can be situated on a scale from apology to utopia, which can be set out as follows: firstly, the apologist role of courts, in which they serve as a legitimating agency of the state’s actions; secondly, the avoiding role of courts, in which they, for policy considerations, avoid exercising jurisdiction over a case; thirdly, the deferral role of courts, in which courts defer back to the other branches of the government the responsibility of finding an appropriate remedy; fourthly, the normative application role of courts, in which they apply international humanitarian law as required by the rule of law; and, finally, the utopian role of courts, in which they introduce moral judgments in favour of the protection of the individual, beyond the requirements of the law. The book investigates the rulings of five key domestic courts, those of the UK, the USA, Canada, Italy, and Israel, to understand how their approaches differ, and where their practice can be placed on the methological scale. This analysis has been assisted by field work, notably in the Israeli military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

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  • Nasu, H., and R. McLaughlin (eds.), New Technologies and the Law of Armed Conflict, The Hague, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2014.

    Nasu, H., and R. McLaughlin (eds.), New Technologies and the Law of Armed Conflict, The Hague, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2014.

    Modern technological development has been both rapid and fundamentally transformative of the means and methods of warfare, and of the broader environment in which warfare is conducted. In many cases, technological development has been stimulated by, and dedicated to, addressing military requirements. On other occasions, technological developments outside the military sphere affect or inform the conduct of warfare and military expectations. The introduction of new technologies such as information technology, space technologies, nanotechnology and robotic technologies into our civil life, and into warfare, is expected to influence the application and interpretation of the existing rules of the law of armed conflict. In this book, scholars and practitioners working in the fields critically examine the potential legal challenges arising from the use of new technologies and future directions of legal development in light of the specific characteristics and challenges each technology presents with regard to foreseeable humanitarian impacts upon the battlespace.

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  • Clapham, A., and P. Gaeta (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Clapham, A., and P. Gaeta (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

    This Oxford Handbook provides an authoritative overview of key topics related to the application of international law in armed conflict. The Handbook engages in a broad analysis of international humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law, international criminal and environmental law, and the law on the use of force. The Handbook features 32 essays by leading scholars and practitioners with an emphasis on understanding key concepts and analysing emerging problems related to terrorism, new types of weapons, international criminal law, and the interaction between humanitarian law and human rights law

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  • Drones and Robots as Means of Modern Warfare

    Several aspects of autonomous weapons systems and the deployment of drones during warfare will be discussed during the upcoming Peace and Security Salon: “Drones and Robots as means of modern warfare” which will be held at the Peace Palace Library on Thursday, the 9th of april. The use of drones as a weapons system has increased exponentially in recent years and this has given rise to a significant degree of controversy and a number of specific questions relating to their use. Questions which arise in relation to drones and autonomous weapons systems include whether they are in conformity with or potentially capable of complying with IHL requirements in conditions of contemporary warfare, issues of accountability and responsibility and ethical questions.

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  • Are There Limits To Warfare?

    Pro-Russian separatists marched captured Ukrainian soldiers through the streets of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk over the weekend. The march was a news event that got the attention of many, including international human rights activists, calling the march a violation of the Geneva Conventions’ rules on the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). The Geneva Conventions are at the core of international humanitarian law and provide a detailed framework for the protection of prisoners of war during armed conflict.

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  • Hague Academy Model United Nations on Drone Warfare and International Law

    Directed energy weapons, drones, self targeting bullets, mobile tactical high energy lasers, military robots, spy weapons, weapons undetectable under an x-ray scan, remote controlled insect armies, self driving tanks, robotic mules, thermal camouflage, surveillance technologies and autonomous unmanned systems are some examples of the high tech weapons and military technology that are now used during warfare. The use of this state of the art military technology raises serious ethical and legal questions: (when) is the use of drones acceptable?

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  • 60th Anniversary of the UNESCO 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Event of an Armed Conflict

    The 1954 Convention is the basic international treaty formulating rules to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. It regulates the conduct of nations during war and military occupation in order to assure the protection of cultural sites, monuments and repositories, including museums, libraries and archives. A Round table meeting in the Peace Palace is organized on Monday, 12 May 2014.

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  • Crimes against Cultural Property in Mali

    In an earlier Peace Palace Library blog (Cultucide in Timbuktu: Shari’a and war crimes) Ingrid Kost wrote that the Islamist Group Ansar (Ed)dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) destroyed some of the age-old mausolea of Sufi Saints in Timbuktu, Mali. One of the major causes of destruction of cultural property (the illicit trading, stealing and looting of cultural property is not covered in this blog) over the ages has been armed conflict. Crimes against cultural property should therefore be addressed properly.

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  • Colombia: At Last Peace with the FARC?

    Columbia’s fourth attempt at peace with the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) started formally last month in Oslo and will continue the 15th of November in Havana, Cuba. The earlier attempts- starting in 1984, 1990 and 1998- to end one of Latin America’s longest and bloodiest armed conflict all failed. Why would the outcome of the peace talks this time be different?

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  • The Legality of Drone Attacks

    According to a recent report by Stanford and New York Universities’ law schools (Living Under Drones), the current US drone strike policy is counterproductive, has injured and killed civilians and undermines respect for international law. This blog explores briefly both the ius ad bellum and ius in bello implications of drone attacks.

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  • The Body Counts : Civilian Casualties in War

    Throughout the post Cold War period there has been a widespread view that war and armed conflict have changed radically since the First World War to the point where some 80-90% of war victims are now civilians. Many modern wars have been accompanied by significant depopulations, along with destruction of infrastructure and resources.

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  • The International Criminal Court Delivers Judgment on Child Soldiers

    On Wednesday 14 March, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered it’s first verdict. In a unanimous decision three judges convicted Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities. With this judgment the ICC firmly establishes the use of children in armed conflict as an international crime and also focuses renewed attention on the many thousands of children still used in various other conflicts in the world.

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  • A Licence to Kill? The assassination of Osama Bin Laden: Has the USA gone too far in acting as a policeman or was the raid justified?

    Osama Bin Laden (OBL) is dead. He was killed by a special ops team from the United States of America (USA), “after a firefight.” After OBL had been assassinated, the special team of SEALS took the deceased body of the dangerous mastermind terrorist and several hard drives from the compound in Abbottabad. Bin laden had been hiding there with his family for several years without being noticed. When the Pentagon researched the hard drives, it appeared that OBL had been planning new attacks, at least on several US cities and also on European locations. Upon hearing this news so many have sighed with relief that the secret services of the USA found out about these planned attacks before they could actually take place. Obama, President of the USA stated that “justice had been done” by executing OBL. But “what kind of justice” The assassination also led to a lot of questions and criticism: Was the raid justified?

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  • Dresden 1945 : an Allied War Crime?

    Since 1945, the bombing of Dresden is considered by many as a violation of international law and as a crime against humanity, even though positive rules of international humanitarian law were absent at the time. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of international law. However these conventions, adressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts (→ The Hague Rules of Air Warefare 1922/1923) to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not done before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws.
    The aerial bombardment of Dresden does not only raise the question as to whether or not it was an Allied war crime, but it also makes a moral appeal to prevent total war against civilian populations. It’s memory is kept alive.

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  • “De bijdrage van Nederland aan de codificatie van het moderne humanitaire recht (1800-1914)”

    A legal historical study of the development of international humanitarian law in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century in the Netherlands.Recently the Peace Palace Library received a gift from the children of D.J.H.N. den Beer Poortugael (Herman den Beer Poortugael). The gift, a book titled: “De bijdrage van Nederland aan de [...]

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  • New Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) to be signed on December 3, 2008

    Cluster Bomb Tour Bus takes on Eastern Europe

    On Wednesday, 1st October an eight-week campaign trail through Europe was launched to convince all governments to sign a groundbreaking treaty banning cluster bombs, in Oslo on December 3, 2008. Beginning in Belgrade, Serbia and ending at the signing ceremony in Norway, the Ban Bus will rally [...]

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  • Judgement of the ICTY Appeals Chamber in the 'Dubrovnik' Case

    On Thursday, 17 July, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) rendered its judgement [PDF document] on the appeals of both the Prosecution and the Defense against the conviction and sentence of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) General Pavle Strugar (Case No. IT-01-42-A).

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