Does One Illegality Merit Another? The Law of Belligerent Reprisals in International Law

(2001) 170 Military Law Review 155-177

23 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2015

See all articles by Andrew D. Mitchell

Andrew D. Mitchell

University of Melbourne - Law School


While the international community must continue to search for more effective means to enforce international law, the successive reduction in the class of individuals and objectives that may be the subject of reprisals is both workable and appropriate. The uncertain potential of the doctrine of reprisals to make a positive contribution to the maintenance of international law cannot outweigh its certain potential for abuse. Advances in the destructive firepower of military technology only heighten this abusive potential. More appropriate enforcement mechanisms are found at an international level. These include admittedly imperfect bodies such as the International Fact-Finding Commission and the International Criminal Court. Rather than lament their imperfections, we should recognize how they reinforce modern conceptions of international law where States owe duties to the international community. They can be no less effective than the practice of reprisals they replace, and they will result in much less bloodshed.

Keywords: International humanitarian law, reprisals

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Andrew D., Does One Illegality Merit Another? The Law of Belligerent Reprisals in International Law. (2001) 170 Military Law Review 155-177. Available at SSRN:

Andrew D. Mitchell (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
+61383441098 (Phone)
+61393472392 (Fax)


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