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Humane Principles in Law

Humanitarian ethics has, over time, derived a number of specific principles of humane treatment in armed conflict from the more general moral value of humanity. In the development of international law, these humane principles have been shaped as particular duties, rights and rules or constructed into specific moral identities like non-combatant, civilian and refugee. These moral and legal norms have been derived as specific secondary principles to regulate the humane conduct of armed conflict. As precisions of the principle of humanity in action, they represent the second important elaboration of humanitarian ethics in armed conflict.

These legal precisions have ancient moral roots that run far back in human history in the religious and customary ethics of war.29 Humane ideas of protecting certain types of people from armed conflict have always existed in varying degrees throughout history (especially women, children, unarmed men, the elderly and professional religious) but these norms have been respected very inconsistently. As Francois Bugnion observes of the principle of civilian protection in his magisterial legal history of ICRC’s protection of war victims: "it has taken centuries for this principle to be accepted”.30 Nevertheless, in modern times this and other principles of humane conduct are now agreed in international law to an unprecedented extent. The Humanitarian Charter of humanitarian agencies summarizes and affirms these legal principles as the basic moral parameters of any humanitarian action by warring parties and humanitarian agencies.31 They can be divided into humane principles that guide three main aspects of armed conflict: the identification of protected persons; the military conduct of hostilities; and appropriate types of humanitarian aid.

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