Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Program on International Law and Armed Conflict

Research guide for Harvard Law School's research program on international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.


Welcome to Our Guide for PILAC Researchers

This research guide for the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC) provides information about helpful resources for the program's research.  

Research Librarian Jennifer Allison, who is the Harvard Law Library's PILAC liaison, created and maintains this guide. 

Check out these sections of the PILAC website to learn more about the program's work:


Introductory Concept: International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) creates legal restrictions on waging warfare for the purpose of protecting non-participants. It is comprised of international treaties and customary law.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provides humanitarian protection of and assistance to people impacted by war and armed conflict. In addition to its work on the ground, the ICRC also provides resources for IHL research.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) definition:
"International Humanitarian Law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare."


Introductory Concepts: Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello

Jus ad Bellum governs the pre-engagement conduct of states and non-state actors that are considering whether to engage in war and armed conflict.  It is concerned with the justification of and limits to the use of force.

Jus in Bello is the body of legal norms governing battle and occupation - the "conduct of individuals and units toward combatants, non-combatants, property, and the environment." Violations are punishable under customary international law and international legal instruments.

Source: Bouvier Law Dictionary

In scholarly literature, Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello are often discussed together. They may be discussed under broader philosophical, religious, or moral principles using the terms Just War Theory or Just War Doctrine (Jus Bellum Iustum). Sometimes these are discussed in combination with a third principle, Jus Post Bellum, which encompasses post-conflict legal norms.

Critical Resource: Geneva Conventions

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, "The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols form the core of international humanitarian law, which regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They protect people not taking part in hostilities and those who are no longer doing so."

The text of each of the four Geneva Conventions and the three Additional Protocols, along with their commentaries, are available at Additional materials are listed below.

HOLLIS Library Catalog

Harvard's HOLLIS library catalog is the best way to find research materials in Harvard's libraries.

Using HOLLIS effectively takes some practice and strategy. This section of the guide offers a suggested method for searching HOLLIS designed for the types of research projects that PILAC has undertaken over the past several years.

1.  Getting Started: Understand What You're Searching

HOLLIS has two search modes:

  • Library Catalog means searching for materials in the collections of Harvard's libraries: books, eBooks, periodicals (by periodical title, not article title), photographs, videos, print government documents, manuscript collections, and more.
  • Everything means, in addition to the library catalog, searching a large electronic index of materials called Primo that includes information about periodical articles and book chapters.  

If you type a term in the search box on the HOLLIS home page and press Enter, HOLLIS will do an Everything search by default.

2.  Searching: Start Broad

You will have more control over your search if you use HOLLIS's Advanced Search option.  Do this by clicking ADVANCED SEARCH at top of the home page.  Start out by searching as broadly as possible for all of the materials that you might have access to that are related to PILAC's work, like this:

Search for: Everything
Keywords anywhere + Contains + "law of war" OR "armed conflict" OR "international humanitarian law" OR "geneva conventions"

This search returns more than half a million results.


3.  Narrowing Your Search: Adding Keywords

Now, you can get to work narrowing down those results so that they are more tailored to what you want.  Here are some options for adding more search terms to the original query, based on the nature of the research that you are doing.

  • Add a jurisdiction-specific keyword, accommodating spelling variations in nouns and adjectives (example: France OR French).
  • Add a keyword for the principle you are researching (examples: "state practice" or "domestic law" or "rules of engagement" or "jus ad bello" or "jus in bello" or "responsibility to protect" or "protection of civilians" or "proportionality") 
  • Add a keyword for a type of operation or conflict (examples: "asymmetric" or "international" or "non-international" or "extraterritorial" or "civil war" or "cyber" or "counter-terrorism" or "counterinsurgency" or "self defense" or "targeting" or "preemptive attack" or "humanitarian intervention")
  • Add a keyword for a type of weapon or instrument (examples: "drone" or "unmanned" or "autonomous," or "robot")  
  • Add a keyword for a humanitarian principle, objective, or action (examples: "just war" or "medical care" or "humanitarian aid")
  • Add a keyword representing an identity (examples: "soldier" or "combatant" or "civilian" or "non-state actor" or "belligerent" or "insurgent" or "armed group" or "mercenary")
  • Add a keyword for a specific treaty, convention, or agreement (examples: "non-proliferation of nuclear weapons" or "anti-personnel landmine convention" or "Rome Statute")
  • Add a keyword representing an international body (examples: "Security Council" or "NATO" or "International Committee of the Red Cross")
  • Add a keyword for a type of resource (examples: "research handbook" or "military manual" or "dataset")

Helpful Information for Research

The rest of this guide provides information about and links to additional resources and materials that PILAC researchers have found helpful in the past.

ICRC IHL Bibliography

Book Series

Some publishers offer series of works that discuss topics relevant to war, armed conflict, and international humanitarian law research.  Click a series link below to view a list of the series titles in the Harvard Libraries collection.


Masters theses and PhD dissertations provide book-length information on topics of interest to PILAC and bibliographies of relevant research materials. 


Harvard affiliates can click the journal titles below for information about print and electronic access to them. Journal website links are also provided; some include free content.

Journal Directories

To find additional journals not listed in this guide, try searching these journal directories.


Includes online data aggregator services for armed conflict data.

Using Data

Check out these resources for additional information about war and armed conflict datasets and using them for your research.

Digital Document Collections

This section lists miscellaneous collections of digitized documents that may be useful for PILAC research projects.

Institutes, Programs, and Organizations



Other Reference Materials

Related Harvard Law Library Research Guides

IHL and Armed Conflict Law Scholars

Below is a list of scholars and academics who teach and research IHL and armed conflict law.  Links to websites with biographical information and, when available, bibliographies are provided.

Treaty Materials

Travaux Préparatoires

The documentary history of the preparation of an international agreement is generally known as its Travaux Préparatoires. The resources below can be helpful in finding these materials for international treaties and agreements.

United Nations Research Guides

The UN's Dag Hammarskjöld Library's online research guides are helpful for research involving UN documents and materials. Some of the more relevant of these guides to PILAC's research activities include the following:

Other UN Materials

U.S. Naval War College: Stockton e-portal

The Stockton e-Portal is a research resource for armed conflict law.  It is maintained by Sasha Radin, diector of research at the U.S. Naval War College Stockton Center for the Sutdy of International Law.


Screenshot of Stockton e-Portal on U.S. Naval War College website


Contact Us!

  Ask Us! Submit a question or search our knowledge base.

Chat with us! Chat  with a librarian.


 Contact Historical & Special Collections at

 Meet with Us  Schedule an online consult with a Librarian

Hours  Library Hours

Classes View Training Calendar or Request an Insta-Class

 Text Ask a Librarian, 617-702-2728