Practice Relating to Rule 140. The Principle of Reciprocity
Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual (2007) provides in Book III, Volume 2 (Instruction of second-year trainee officers):
III.1. Collective responsibility
Collective responsibility of a belligerent party for a violation of the law of armed conflicts takes several forms.
- The most frequent and foremost form of collective responsibility manifests when one party to the conflict, seeing itself confronted with a violation of one or more rules of IHL by the other party, no longer considers itself bound to respect the rule or rules in question. Such an attitude is nothing other than the rigorous application of the principle of negative reciprocity.
Anxious to prevent the intervention of such a summary principle, the authors of the 1949 Geneva Conventions have specified in Article 1 common to the four Conventions that the parties are bound to respect the Conventions in all circumstances.
III.4. Mechanisms to engage the responsibility of the State
Lastly, let us recall one means not at the disposal of the injured State. In contrast to what international treaties normally allow, in the context of international humanitarian law a State cannot withdraw from its obligations by invoking the fact that the adverse party grossly violates its obligations. The rules of international humanitarian law are not subject to the condition of reciprocity; they must be respected by every party to a conflict, in all circumstances and without conditions.
On the other hand, the Geneva Conventions and the Protocols can be denounced like every international law treaty. Such a denunciation, however, in any case takes effect only one year after the end of the conflict. The obligations of a customary character evidently cannot be denounced, since States are not free to dispose of these norms as they please.