Legal Courses

Certificate of Advanced Studies – Legal Environment of Humanitarian Action

This Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) course offers a broad overview of the international legal framework governing humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict, complex emergencies, natural disasters and social exclusion. It covers international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and refugee law among other areas of international law.

The course aims to equip participants with the ability to analyse humanitarian action challenges from a legal perspective and to use international law to advance humanitarian objectives.



At the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify victims of violations of international rules, determine who can be held responsible for violations of international law in different humanitarian crisis situations and know what international legal mechanisms are available to ensure accountability, serve justice, seek redress and reduce vulnerability and social exclusion
  • Critically assess the opportunities and limitations 
of international law and legal mechanisms for addressing humanitarian action challenges in practice

Learning outcomes in terms of knowledge - Understanding of

  • the main rules of international law pertaining to humanitarian action, and their formal sources
  • the rights of individuals and the rights and obligations of other actors, including states and non-state actors under international law
  • the main international legal mechanisms for achieving justice, redress, addressing grievances, and reducing vulnerability or social exclusion

Learning outcomes in terms of skills - Capacity to

  • apply the relevant rules of international law in a specific case
  • integrate legal considerations into a humanitarian intervention strategy 

Learning outcomes in terms of analytical competencies - Ability to

  • analyze a humanitarian action problem from a legal perspective
  • critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of approaching a humanitarian action problem from a legal perspective
  • assess the opportunities and limitations of the use of legal mechanisms for responding to humanitarian action challenges



7 intensive weeks (around 300 hours) of individual work including

  • Pre-readings,
  • Face to face sessions (lectures, role plays, working groups, presentations)
  • Personal work (readings, research, writing)



Week 1 : International law and humanitarian action

  • Introduction to international law, IHL, IHRL
  • UN Charter, R2P
  • Humanitarian access
  • Protection of victims of war, conduct of hostilities
  • UN HR protection mechanisms

Week 2: International law and humanitarian action

  • Non-state actors
  • Disaster response law
  • Case study on IHL and IHRL interaction
  • Personal work on research paper
  • Written Exam

Week 3: Special protection challenges and international law

  • Children
  • Detainees
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Social exclusion
  • Sexual violence

Week 4: International criminal law and transitional justice

  • International crimes and responsibilities
  • International criminal tribunals and courts
  • Truth commissions
  • Transitional justice

Week 5: Legal framework of forced migration

  • Refugees
  • IDPs
  • Statelessness
  • Human rights of migrants
  • Asylum in Switzerland

Week 6: Role play on the use of international law in humanitarian action

Week 7: Out-of-class assignment (personal thematic paper)


10 ECTS credits
Credits obtained are valid for a period of 5 years during which they can be used to complete the MAS.