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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Inter-state Conflict and Humanitarian Law (LAWS11221)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course will comprise the study of conflict in international law. It will be concerned with the law relating to the resort to armed force by states. The law relating to self-defence will be studied. There will also be a focus on humanitarian law, in particular, on the law relating to entitlement to combatant status, on the law regulating the conduct of hostilities between opposing forces and the law on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In addition, there will be a study of post-conflict issues.
Course description The course will study the legal concept of war and how it has changed, including a consideration of whether war is legally possible in current legal considitions. The scope and meaning of the UN Charter prohibition against the use of force will be studied, along with the key exceptions to that prohibition ┬┐ principally the law of self-defence, including the concepts of armed attack, necessity and proportionality. Other possible exceptions, such as the rescue of nationals and humanitarian intervention, will also be covered. There will be a study of the concept of belligerents┬┐ rights and belligerent status, including a study of the concept of unlawful belligerency. The issue of the struggle against terrorism as an example of armed conflict will be explored. The nature and broad structure of international humanitarian law will be studied, including the fundamental concept of military necessity. The legal rules for the protection of civilians in armed conflict will be explored, including the key principle of proportionality. There will also be a study of the rules relating to the forfeiture by civilians of such legal protection through direct participation in hostilities. Among the principal issues relating to the conduct of hostilities will be: the concept of military objective; rules relating to ruses, perfidy and spying; policies of targeted killing; drone warfare; cyber war; autonomous weapons systems; the use of nuclear weapons; and belligerent reprisals. There will also be a study of the law relating to non-international armed conflicts, including the concept of recognition of belligerency and the rules relating to proxy warfare and third-state interventions in civil wars.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  22
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The essay will be due at the end of the course, i.e., at approximately early January 2022. There is a maximum word limit of 6000 words. The intention is that the essay will require the students to build on the classroom readings and discussions, to explore the application of this material to various contentious current legal issues.
Feedback In the middle of the semester, there will be an opportunity for feedback from an optional formative exercise. This will comprise the submission of an essay of up to 1500 words. Feedback will take the form of individual written feedback on each essay submitted.
For the summative essay, individual feedback will be provided for each paper, along with the mark, and entered in Learn.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate expertise and critical thought in relation to the following topics: Nature of war in particular and of armed conflict in general; rules on resort to force, together with key exceptions to those rules; the nature and significance of belligerents┬┐ rights; the legal nature of the struggle against terrorism; basic principles governing international humanitarian law; legal protection of civilians in armed conflict; legal regulation of non-international armed conflicts; and a range of specific issues, including the legal challenges posed by the bringing of new technology to warfare.
  2. Evidence knowledge and understanding when dealing with problems which are not specifically covered in the course assignments. Existing knowledge is to be applied to novel situations.
  3. Utilise of generic cognitive skills when required, in the form of reading expositions of basic legal arguments, and then critically assessing their merits.
  4. Apply communication skills in the form of participation in seminar discussions. The course is not to be a mere setting out of knowledge by the teacher, but rather an interactive process involving the students.
Reading List
Stephen C. Neff, War and the Law of Nations: A General History (2005)
Robert Kolb, Advanced Introduction to International Humanitarian Law (2015)
Gary D. Solis, The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War (2d ed. 2016)
Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-defence (6th ed. 2017)
Yoram Dinstein, The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict (3d ed. 2016)
Marco Sassoli, International Humanitarian Law: Rules, Controversies, and Solutions to Problems Arising in Warfare (2019)
Marc Weller (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Use of Force in International Law (2015)
Andrew Clapham and Paolo Gaeta (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of
International Law in Armed Conflict (2014)
of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict (3d ed. 2016)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills (1) The students are to gain experience in the application of generic cognitive skills, in the form of reading expositions of basic legal arguments, and the critical assessment of their merits. (2) Participation in the seminar discussions is intended to hone the student's communication skills. (3) The essay component of the course is intended to give the students significant experience in the conducting of independent research and writing.
KeywordsInternational Law,Humanitarian Law,Armed conflict,War,Use of Force,Self-Defence,Cyber
Course organiserDr Stephen Neff
Tel: (0131 6)50 2067
Course secretaryMs Susanna Wickes
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