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EU guidelines on the promotion of compliance with international humanitarian law

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EU guidelines on the promotion of compliance with international humanitarian law

The European Union presents the principles underlying its action to promote compliance with international humanitarian law.


Updated European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) [Official Journal C 303 of 15.12.2009].


The European Union (EU) promotes compliance with international humanitarian law through its relations with the rest of the world.

The EU is founded on a set of values which it promotes in the context of its external relations (Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union). These include the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

These guidelines are addressed to public or non-State actors (non-governmental organisations, etc.) operating in the EU.

Reducing the effects of armed conflict

International humanitarian law is also known as the Law of Armed Conflict or the Law of War. It regulates the means and methods of warfare in order to reduce the impact of armed conflict. Compliance with these legal principles should make it possible to protect persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in conflicts (such as civilians and prisoners of war).

International humanitarian law applies to:

  • armed conflicts, whether they occur between countries or within a single country, and irrespective of the origin of the conflict. However, international armed conflicts and internal armed conflicts are subject to different legal regimes;
  • occupations of territory linked to armed conflicts.

In addition, the international laws on human rights may apply both in times of peace and in times of war. They are complementary to international humanitarian law.

Operational guidelines

The EU is committed to the effective implementation of international humanitarian law. Firstly, the actors involved must gather detailed information on conflicts and draw up reports, assessments and recommendations for action. This concerns:

  • European institutions, in particular Council Working Groups, cooperating with the international organisations concerned, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Organisation (UN) and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC).
  • EU Heads of Mission and appropriate EU representatives (Heads of EU Civilian Operations, Commanders of EU Military Operations and EU Special Representatives). In particular, they should establish cases of serious violation of international humanitarian law;
  • the Council Working Group on International Law (COJUR) and all relevant Council Working Groups.

The EU has several means of action at its disposal:

  • political dialogue with non-EU States, both in the event of conflict and in time of peace;
  • general public statements by which the EU takes a stand in favour of compliance with humanitarian law;
  • demarches and public statements through which the EU condemns situations or particular acts;
  • restrictive measures and sanctions which may be applied to States or individuals involved in a conflict. Such measures must be appropriate and in accordance with international law;
  • cooperation with international bodies;
  • crisis-management operations which may include missions to collect information useful for the International Criminal Court (ICC) or for investigations of war crimes;
  • the prosecution of individuals responsible for violating international humanitarian law;
  • the training and education of populations, military personnel and law enforcement officials;
  • the control of arms sales, in accordance with Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP which provides that export licences should be subject to compliance with human rights by countries importing arms.

Individual responsibility in the event of conflict

Certain serious violations of international humanitarian law are defined as war crimes. They may occur in the same circumstances as genocide or crimes against humanity. EU countries shall ensure that those responsible for war crimes are brought before their domestic courts, the courts of another State or the ICC.

Last updated: 26.03.2010