IRRC No. 293

Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law — Alike yet Distinct

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International humanitarian law and human rights law share a common goal, namely to protect the individual and to ensure respect for human dignity. Yet these two branches of international public law each have their own characteristics and origins and have evolved in different ways.Nevertheless, the troubled aftermath of the Second World War, the unchecked rise of violence and poverty in recent decades and the resulting need for improved protection of the ever-growing number of victims of violations of fundamental human rights have all contributed not only to the evolution of the two branches of law but also to their convergence, like “two poor crutches on which disarmed victims can lean simultaneously”, to quote an expressive image by Karel Vasak. This expert went so far as to estimate in 1984 that “the convergence of the two branches has led to an overlapping both on paper and, increasingly, in practice as well”.

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