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Unit information: International Law and Armed Conflict in 2020/21

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Unit name International Law and Armed Conflict
Unit code LAWDM0158
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Burton
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit is a unique course which requires students to study the intersections between the law on the use of force (jus ad bellum), the law of armed conflict/war (jus in bello), and when a state’s use of force and breaches of the laws of war attract international criminal sanction. It distinguishes key international crimes from the former international legal regimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide. This engagement with the intersections of different fields of international law is key for understanding contemporary global warfare, an important example being global counter-terror operations, which have been termed ‘internationalised’ non-international armed conflict. Students will learn which domestic and international adjudicatory mechanisms can enforce each body of law, and how their adjudication can have a bearing on the substance of the intersecting legal regimes.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Describe the international sources of law governing the use of force in the UN Charter, and in customary international law (pay attention to the roles of the UNSC and the ICJ).
  2. Describe the sources on the laws of armed conflict in the Hague Conventions, its Protocol (pay attention to the role of the ICRC and the ICJ).
  3. Describe the international criminal tribunals and courts, and their relationship with domestic courts, and the legal sources governing their functioning and interaction.
  4. Evaluate the law on what constitutes legal, illegal, and legitimate uses of force.
  5. Evaluate the distinction between crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes under the laws of war.
  6. Critically assess which States fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC for which crimes (including the opening of preliminary investigations against the US, UK, and in Palestine and Ukraine).
  7. Critically assess the intersection between the laws of armed conflict and what constitutes a war crime that falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC (case study of human shields).
  8. Critically assess the relationship between the law on the use of force and the crime of aggression.
  9. Critically assess the role of force in contemporary international relations, including the war on terror.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a variety of asynchronous and synchronous activities.

Assessment Information

Students will be assessed by 2 x 3,000 word coursework assignments. Each 1 x 3,000 word coursework will amount to 50% of the overall mark. Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative assessment opportunities will be provided during the year.

Reading and References


Christine Gray, International Law and the Use of Force (4th edn, OUP 2018)

Robert Kolb, International Law on the Maintenance of Peace: Jus Contra Bellum (Elgar 2019)

Weller (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the Use of Force in International Law (OUP 2015)

Carsten Stahn, A Critical Introduction to International Criminal Law (CUP 2019)

Robert Cryer et al, An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure (CUP 2014) (online publication 2018)

International Criminal Court -

International Court of Justice -