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EU guidelines on the promotion of compliance with international humanitarian law



Updated EU guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law

Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)


The guidelines set out operational tools for the EU to promote compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) through its relations with the rest of the world.

The guidelines are addressed at all those taking action within the context of the EU’s relations with the rest of the world, with a view to limiting the impact of armed conflict on civilians and prisoners. They complement guidelines and other common positions adopted by the EU in relation to human rights (for example on torture and the death penalty).

Article 3(5) TEU lists the values on which the EU is founded, including those that it promotes in the context of its external relations. These values include the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.


The guidelines are for public (including EU institutional) or non-state actors (non-governmental organisations, etc.) operating in the EU.

Reducing the effects of armed conflict

IHL 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).

IHL applies to:

  • armed conflicts, whether they occur between countries or within a single country, and irrespective of the origin of the conflict; international armed conflicts and internal armed conflicts, however, 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 IHL.

Operational guidelines

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

The EU has several means of action at its disposal:

  • political dialogue with non-EU countries, 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;
  • initiatives 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 Common Position 2008/944/CFSP which requires export licences to 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 country or the ICC.


For more information, see:


Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title I — Common provisions — Article 3 (ex Article 2 TEU) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 17)

Updated European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) (OJ C 303, 15.12.2009, pp. 12-17)


Council Decision 2011/168/CFSP of 21 March 2011 on the International Criminal Court and repealing Common Position 2003/444/CFSP (OJ L 76, 22.3.2011, pp. 56-58)

last update 02.03.2018