International Humanitarian Law Handbook for Commonwealth Parliamentarians

Parliamentarians play a significant role in working with the Executive and others to promote International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and to ensure its effective implementation. This requires Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to be well-informed. This handbook has been specifically designed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the British Red Cross to help achieve this goal, taking into account the specific legal traditions and practices, and values, of Commonwealth countries.

The CPA, founded in 1911, is one of the oldest established organisations in the Commonwealth. It brings together Members, regardless of gender, race, religion or culture, who are united by a community of interest, respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, and by the pursuit of the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy. It brings Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff together to exchange ideas among themselves and with experts in various fields, to identify benchmarks of good practices and new policy options they can adopt or adapt in the governance of their societies.

The history of IHL is intertwined with the history of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is a statutory responsibility of all National Red Cross and National Red Crescent Societies – as neutral humanitarian auxiliaries to their respective governments – to help disseminate knowledge of IHL and to ensure respect for its provisions. Since its establishment in 1870, the British Red Cross has worked in this capacity to support the British Government in matters related to IHL. Additionally, the British Red Cross works in partnership with other organisations, such as the CPA and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to promote IHL in other fora.

In modern armed conflicts, IHL is invoked by a number of different actors, including politicians, UN organs, NGOs, domestic and international media outlets, and, of course the combatants themselves. Especially in our fractured media environment, it can be difficult to find resources related to the rules of war that offer a comprehensive, understandable and objective assessment of where the law stands today.

We hope that you will find the information contained in this handbook useful to your important work as Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

To access the International Humanitarian Law Handbook for Commonwealth Parliamentarians please click here.

Acknowledgments: This handbook has been prepared by Professor Sarah Williams, UNSW Sydney (University of New South Wales, Australia), with research assistance by Sam Hartridge and extensive input from the British Red Cross and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to ensure that the handbook provides a distinctive resource of practical value to Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff from Commonwealth jurisdictions.

For further information about the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the CPA programmes and seminars available for your Parliament or Legislature in relation to International Humanitarian Law or any other area, please contact the CPA Headquarters Secretariat via

Updated 6 September 2019/CPAHQ