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Study Guide


This Study Guide is intended to provide you with resources to help you prepare for the Clara Barton IHL Competition. It aims to provide you with a general overview of the areas of IHL you should be familiar with, so that you can analyze the problems that will arise in the rounds. The Guide does not reflect the exact issues that will be tackled in the Competition, nor is it indicative of all the issues that could appear during the Competition. Moreover, you do not have to follow this Guide; it is simply here to point you in the right direction, if you would like to use it. We recommend using study techniques that have made you successful in law school and your legal careers thus far.


We have compiled the areas of law you should study, particularly the prevalent IHL treaties you should be proficient in by understanding how to navigate the different treaties and their various interpretations. The essential concepts of IHL section is a general outline of the fundamental principles of IHL and is by no means exhaustive. Next, we have suggested some casebooks and online resources that may be useful for your preparation. Lastly, we have compiled a list of potential actors you may be asked to play during the Competition and ideas of ways to simulate the Competition experience.


If you have any questions regarding the Competition’s structure or rules please consult the participant guide and rulebook. You may also reach out via email to


Sources of International Humanitarian Law

This is a general list of sources of IHL and the different types of law governing armed conflict. You should know the differences between them, primarily if they are binding on States or actors, and it would be helpful to have examples of each of the following:


  • Treaties.

    • We have included the relevant treaties in the section below.

  • Customary International Law (CIL)

    • CIL are international obligations that arise from State practice and opinio juris, rather than written conventions and treaties. The ICRC Customary IHL Database can serve as a non-authoritative source of IHL.

  • Case Law

    • Case law is becoming increasingly prevalent when interpreting IHL. The ICRC has compiled a list of cases and documents for past and contemporary conflicts that can be found here.

  • Domestic Law

    • While domestic law is part of IHL in practice, it will not be addressed in the Competition.  



Below are the treaties you should familiarize yourselves with for the Competition. Not all of these will appear during the Competition, and there is no need to memorize them. But similar to a law school exam, having familiarity with each treaty, what they govern, and knowledge of specific articles, will give you an advantage when you are presented with the facts of each round.


Other Areas of International Law

The following areas of international law are not the primary areas of the law that you will focus on during the Competition. However, basic knowledge of these relevant treaties may help you in some of the rounds. If you choose to draw from other areas of international law remember it is only to supplement your argument; IHL remains at the forefront of the Competition.



Essential Concepts

Below is a list of essential IHL concepts. There is no guarantee that all of these will appear during your Competition, but you should be well-versed in these principles, the different thresholds and rules within them, and how they interact with each other. The second bullets are not overly detailed and do not provide you with everything there is to know about each topic; instead, they are generalizations intended to explain what we mean by each topic. If you choose to look at the ICRC guide or a casebook, you will find more detailed explanations.


  • Classification of the Conflict

    • International Armed Conflict vs. Non-International Armed Conflict, and the distinction in what rules apply or do not apply depending on the type of conflict.

  • Proportionality

    • Military Objective vs. Incidental Loss of Civilian Life, Injury to Civilians or Damage to Civilian Objects

  • Distinction

    • Between Civilians and Combatants and Civilian Objectives and Military Objectives

  • Protected Persons

    • Wounded Sick and Shipwrecked, vs. Prisoner of War vs. Protected Civilians

  • Protected Civilian Objects

    • Objects lacking “military character,” e.g., Cultural Property, Hospitals, the Natural Environment.

  • Means and Methods of Warfare

    • Weapons of Mass destruction vs. Conventional Weapons

  • Limiting Unnecessary Suffering

    • Prohibits or restricts means and methods of warfare that are considered to inflict unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury on combatants.

  • Implementation of IHL

    • High Contracting Parties, Parties to the Conflict, Individual Responsibility, Regional Human Rights Courts, and UN Bodies.

  • Essential principles of International Criminal Law (individual/commander/state responsibility, complementarity, jurisdiction of the ICC, due process, etc.)



While the casebooks below may help you learn about IHL, it is not necessary to own any or all of these books. However, they can be useful to gain general knowledge about IHL. Additionally, we are not endorsing any particular casebook.


  • The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War, Gary D. Solis. 

  • International Humanitarian Law: Rules, Controversies, and Solutions to Problems Arising in Warfare, Marco Sassoli.

  • Principles of International Humanitarian Law, Jonathan Crowe, and Kylie Weston-Scheuber.

  • The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict, Andrew Clapham and Paola Gaeta. 

  • The Law in War, A Concise Overview, Geoffrey Corn, Ken Watkin and Jamie Williamson.

  • The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach, Geoffrey Corn, Victor Hansen, Richard Jackson, M. Christopher Jenks, Eric Talbot Jensen, James A. Schoettler.


Online Resources

Below we have linked online resources such as free courses and casebooks, as well as blogs and websites that may help conceptualize IHL as applied to current events. These may be of interest to you before the Competition, but also in your potential IHL career.



Potential Roles

Below is a non-exhaustive list of potential roles that you may be asked to assume during the rounds. Keep in mind that the judges will also be role-playing during the rounds. You should provide information during the rounds consistent with the role both you and the judges are playing. Possible roles include:


  • ICRC Delegates

  • Members of an NGO

  • Legal Advisors for State Armed Forces

  • Detention Camp Commanders

  • Non-State Armed Groups Leaders or Legal Counsel

  • State Representatives (Ministry of Defense, Justice, State, etc.)

  • Defense or Prosecutors at a international tribunal

  • UN delegates


Competition Preparation

While there is no correct way to prepare for the Clara Barton IHL Competition, below is a list of things you can do to feel comfortable with the different scenarios you may face in the rounds.


  • Go through past Competition rounds, which are available on our website. Former teams have repeatedly stated that going through previous Competitions was an excellent way to get a feel for the types of questions presented, the roles you may be asked to play, and the judges’ roles. Please be aware that each competition is unique in terms of its round structure and legal issues. Participants should not depend exclusively on materials from previous competitions for their preparation.

  • Find fact patterns and decipher how IHL applies, including where to look for the relevant articles in the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols, and other treaties.

  • Practicing these fact patterns in a role-playing setting while assuming a character’s role and altering the information based on who you are presenting it to. 

  • When practicing, take into account time limits and potential interruptions through questions or new information.

  • Creating a system within your team for researching and deciphering the information for each round.

  • Deciding how you will assign parts or roles within the team during the Competition and a strategy to disperse the research so that everyone is informed and can help out as needed.

  • Ensuring you have a system to continue a round if any team member has technical difficulties during the Competition.

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