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This article questions the conventional histories of international humanitarian law, which view international humanitarian law as the heir to a long continuum of codes of warfare. It demonstrates instead that the term international humanitarian law first appeared in the 1970s, as the product of work done by various actors pursuing different ends. The new idea of an international humanitarian law was codified in the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. Nevertheless, many of the provisions of the Protocols remained vague and contested, and their status, together with the humanitarian vision of the law they outlined, was uncertain for some time. It was only at the end of the 20th century that international lawyers, following the lead of human rights organizations, declared Additional Protocol I to be authoritative and the law of war to be truly humanitarian. As such, this article concludes that international humanitarian law is not simply an ahistorical code, managed by states and promoted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Rather, it is a relatively new and historically contingent field that has been created, shaped and dramatically reinterpreted by a variety of actors, both traditional and unconventional.

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Journal Article

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