Humanitarian law (often called international humanitarian law) is the branch of law that regulates conduct in war. It focuses on the people who are not actually fighting, but are affected by war’s effects. Humanitarian law also restricts and regulates the methods of warfare that combatants use. Any laws that deal with humanitarian concerns (like migration or crises responses) can fall under the umbrella of “humanitarian law,” as well. Interested in learning more? Here are five courses you can audit online for free:
International Humanitarian Law
Length: 12 weeks (4-12 hours per week)
Provided by: LouvainX
In today’s world, armed conflicts are complex. We’re faced with legal issues such as the definition of “combatants,” the detention of rebels, the role of UN peacekeepers, and more. In this advanced course, students will learn these complexities. Topics covered include counter-terrorism, the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and the conflicts in Armenia, Mali, Afghanistan, and other places. Students, academics, and researchers interested in specializing in international humanitarian law will gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
The audit track is a master-level law course, so if you don’t have previous knowledge or experience in this field, it might be challenging. You’ll also be tested on your mastery with multiple-choice questions. Students should expect to study about 4-7 hours per week. The verified track (available for a fee) takes a deeper approach and offers more complex, thorough testing.
International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice
Length: 19 hours
Provided by: Universiteit Leiden + Kalshoven-Gieskes Forum
This beginner-level course guides students through the rules of international humanitarian law, its purpose, and its challenges. You’ll learn how these rules apply to different conflicts around the world, such as the Syrian civil war, the military intervention in Ukraine, and the West Bank occupation. Once the basics are explored (i.e. what weapons are allowed, who can’t be targeted, etc), you’ll consider whether international humanitarian law actually works. The course blends theory and practice, giving you a well-rounded understanding of the subject.
The course is divided into five weeks or about 19 hours in total. Auditing is free to everyone. There is a verified certificate available for a fee.
Humanitarian Response to Conflict and Disaster
Length: 5 weeks (3-4 hours per week)
Provided by: HarvardX
This course focuses on humanitarianism during conflict. Through four case studies (Zaire, Somalia, the Balkans, and Afghanistan and Pakistan), this course from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and HarvardX teaches students how to recognize and analyze challenges. They’ll learn about the legal and historical frameworks that established humanitarian principles and ask whether they still apply today.
There are no prerequisites, so this course is a good choice for students recently interested in the topic. It should take about five weeks to complete the course, but it is self-paced, so students are free to take more time. There’s a verified certificate available for a fee.
Length: 12 weeks (6-8 hours per week)
Provided by: LouvainX
International law governs the relationship between States, but it’s also relevant to international organizations, corporations, NGOs, and individuals. In this course, students will learn what international law is, how it’s applied, and what happens when it’s violated. You’ll become familiar with international treaties, how international law is interpreted, and the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
This is an advanced course, but no prerequisites are required. To get the most from the class, it will be helpful if students are familiar with basic legal concepts and vocabulary. No prior knowledge of international law is needed. If you commit to 6-8 hours of work per week, you should complete the course in 12 weeks. A verified track is available for a fee.
Refugees in the 21st Century
Length: About 28 hours
Provided by: The University of London
International humanitarian law applies to refugees, so understanding how they’re defined and what protections they’re owed matters. In this course, students will take a global perspective on who refugees are, where they come from, where they go, and the challenges they deal with. You’ll learn how to evaluate on-the-ground problems, discuss solutions, work with specialized resources, and understand technical language and legal concepts.
With a weekly commitment of 3-6, you should complete this beginner course in 6 weeks. Deadlines are flexible. Certificates are available for a fee.