A “reprisal” is a breach of international humanitarian law, which would otherwise be unlawful but in exceptional cases is considered lawful as an enforcement measure in response to a previous breach of international humanitarian law by the enemy, with the purpose of terminating the enemy’s violation.
Thus, reprisals are intended to put pressure on the enemy in order to obtain the enemy's compliance with international humanitarian law.
Reprisals are only allowed under very strict conditions and there is a trend towards outlawing reprisals in international humanitarian law.
Reprisals against wounded, sick or shipwrecked persons, medical or religious personnel, medical units, transports and material, prisoners of war, the civilian population and civilian persons, civilian objects, cultural property, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, the natural environment, works and installations containing dangerous forces and the buildings and material used for the protection of the civilian population are always prohibited.




    against protected persons

        GCI, 46 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        GCII, 47 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        GCIII, 13/3

        GCIV, 33/3

        PI, 20

        CIHL, 146

    against civilian population

        PI, 51/6

    against civilian objects

        PI, 52/1, 53/c, 54/4, 55/2, 56/4

        CIHL, 147

    in NIAC

        CIHL, 148

    limited admissibility

        CIHL, 145




Suggested readings:
BIERZANEK Remigiusz, “Reprisals as a Mean of Enforcing the Laws of Warfare: The Old and the New Law”, in CASSESE Antonio (ed.), The New Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict, Napoli, Editoriale Scientifica, Vol. I, 1979, pp. 232-257.
DARCY Shane, “The Evolution of the Law of Belligerent Reprisals”, in Military Law Review, Vol. 175, March 2003, pp. 184-251.
GREENWOOD Christopher, “The Twilight of the Law of Belligerent Reprisals”, in NetherlandsYearbook of International Law, 1989, pp. 35-70.
KALSHOVEN Frits, Belligerent Reprisals, Geneva, Henry-Dunant Institute, Leiden, A. W. Sijthoff, 1971, 389 pp.
NEWTON Michael A., “Reconsidering Reprisals”, in Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law, Vol. 20, No. 3, 2010, pp. 361-388.
SUTTER Philip, “The Continuing Role for Belligerent Reprisals”, in Journal of Conflict and Security, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2008, pp. 93-122.
Further readings:
HAMPSON Françoise, “Belligerent Reprisals and the 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949”, in ICLQ, Vol. 37/4, 1988, pp. 818-843.
NAHLIK Stanislaw E., “Le problème des représailles à la lumière des travaux de la Conférence diplomatique sur le droit humanitaire”, in RGDIP, Vol. 82, 1978, pp. 130-169.