The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes that “disability is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. In providing protections for persons with disability in armed conflicts and prohibiting adverse distinction on this ground, IHL treaties use varied language for different forms of disability, such as “disabled”, “wounded and sick”, “the infirm”, persons with “mental disease” and “the blind”, all of which are mentioned in particular protective rules. While such terms or their inclusion among the wounded and sick reflect an outdated charity and medical concept of disability, those rules protect persons with disabilities (whether caused by the armed conflict or preexisting), as do general rules requiring humane treatment without adverse distinction. The CRPD, which explicitly states that it applies in armed conflicts, requires States parties to provide reasonable accommodation to the rights of persons with disabilities both in the conduct of hostilities and when those persons are in the power of a party. The IHL terms referred to above should today be read in line with social and human rights based models as affirmed in the CRPD.

See Discrimination (or adverse distinction); Fundamental principles of IHL.

Legal Sources

common 3 (see ICRC updated Commentary)
GCI, 12/2 (see ICRC updated Commentary)
GCII, 12/2 (see ICRC updated Commentary)
GCIII, 16, 17/5, 30, 110
GCIV, 13
GCIV, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 27/3, 91, 98, 127
PI, 8/a, 9697075
PII, 2418/2
CIHL, 5588, 138


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
ICRC, Factsheet on IHL and Persons with Disabilities

Bibliographic resources

ICRC, “How law protects persons with disabilities in armed conflict”, 13 December 2017.

PRIDDY Alice, "Disability and Armed Conflict", Geneva Academy Briefing N. 14, April 2019.

HART Naomi, CROCK Mary, MCCALLUM Ron, SAUL Ben, “Making Every Life Count: Ensuring Equality and Protection for Persons with Disabilities in Armed Conflicts”, in Monash University Law Review Vol. 40, 2014, pp. 148-174.