The interplay between war and human rights

Chandra Lekha Sriram; Olga Martin-Ortega; and Johanna Herman


Developing useful policy responses to conflict and human rights requires an understanding of conflict dynamics and conflict resolution as well as international human rights and humanitarian law. This chapter introduces key issues and concepts in the complex relationship between war and human rights, and highlights the varying ways that  human rights violations and conflict they interact. It highlights the interdisciplinary nature of conflict and human rights.

This chapter introduces the connections between armed conflict and human rights, and the key legal sources and obligations that are explored further through the use of in-depth case studies throughout War, Conflict and Human Rights: Theory and Practice. The book is primarily aimed at students and poses discussion questions and suggested further reading.

  • Human rights violations can underpin, emerge from, and intensify conflict. Similarly, while accountability for these violations may be a critical demand, it can also be an obstacle to peace processes.
  • Successful peace processes need to address demands for accountability for past abuses, disarm combatants, and reshape political processes and institutions of law and governance.
  • Responses to past abuses may be developed through the use of domestic courts or international institutions.
  • Non-state armed groups and private military and security companies pose a challenge to peace processes and complicate the application of international humanitarian law.
  • The goals of those who seek to protect human rights and those who seek to promote conflict resolution are complementary. However, they may prioritise goals (or assess success) differently.
  • Obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law are vast, those that are most relevant are explored in chapter 4. The following are of greatest relevance: International Bill of Rights; Genocide Convention; Torture Convention; and the Geneva Conventions.
  • Responses to human rights violations are explored in chapter 3. These include both domestic and transnational processes. Further to these are hybrid institutions which combine domestic and international judges, prosecutors and lawyers, and law.
  • The internal nature of many conflicts discussed in the book generates particular legal and practical difficulties.


Sriram, C. L.; Martin-Ortega, O.; and Herman, J. (2014). The interplay between war and human rights. War, Conflict and Human Rights: Theory and Practice (2nd edition). London: Routledge, pp. 3-13.