Practice Relating to Rule 145. Reprisals
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996) defines a reprisal as “a violation of the law of war, committed in response to the violation of the said law committed by the enemy”. Among the conditions which must be fulfilled for the lawful taking of reprisals, the manual states: “The action of the enemy must constitute a grave, manifest and deliberate violation of the law of war.” It further emphasizes that reprisals are only permitted if authorization is given by the international conventions.
In another chapter, the manual states: “The fear of reprisals can influence belligerent parties and induce them to respect the International Conventions. Reprisals are authorized only in case of a violation of the law of war.”
Spain’s LOAC Manual (2007) states: “Reprisals are in violation of the law of armed conflict when used in response to an enemy violation of this body of law … [They] can only be used in truly exceptional cases.”
The manual also states:
A State can, exceptionally, take measures against another State that commits an internationally unlawful act against it, with a view to pressuring it to comply with its international obligations. …
Fear of reprisals can influence the parties to the conflict to respect international conventions.
The manual also states: “Reprisals … to make the enemy comply with the law of armed conflict … must focus solely on this ultimate goal. Some reprisals are specifically prohibited, such as those directed against protected persons.”
The manual further states: “Abstain from all acts of vengeance.”
Under Spain’s Penal Code (1995) “anyone who … carries out or orders … reprisals or violent acts or threats in order to terrify [the civilian population]” is punishable.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996), in the chapter dealing with the exercise of command and its restrictions with regard to reprisals, states: “Reprisals must be the ultimate resort to re-establish respect for the law of war and may not lose sight of this aim.”
In the chapter dealing with methods of combat, the manual lists among the conditions which must be fulfilled for the lawful taking of reprisals that “they must be a last resort to re-establish respect for the laws of war”; that the State which takes reprisals “has unsuccessfully tried to make the enemy respect the law of war or that such attempts would be of no use”; and that the enemy has been formally warned of the measure that would be taken if it failed to comply with or repeated its violations of the law of war.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (2007) states: “Reprisals can only be used as a last resort to make the enemy comply with the law of armed conflict”.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996) states: “The action must be in proportion to the violation committed by the enemy.”
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996), in the chapter dealing with the exercise of command and its restrictions with regard to reprisals, states:
The taking of measures which constitute violations of the law of war, as a response to violations previously committed by the enemy with the aim of making such violations cease, is decided at the highest governmental level, because of the politico-military consequences to which they give rise.
The manual further states that reprisals “require a decision taken at the highest political level”.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (2007) states:
The decision to take action that constitutes a violation of the law of armed conflict in response to abuses of the law by the enemy, with a view to stopping them, can only be taken at the highest level of government, in view of the political and military implications of such decisions.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996) specifies, among the conditions which must be fulfilled for the lawful taking of reprisals, that the action must cease once its objective has been met.