United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 147. Reprisals against Protected Objects
Section A. Civilian objects in general
The UK Military Manual (1958), in a chapter dealing with the “treatment of enemy alien civilians” and referring to Articles 32–34 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, states: “The following are prohibited: … the taking of reprisals against protected persons and their property”.
In a chapter dealing with “the occupation of enemy territory”, the manual, referring to Articles 33 and 34 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, states: “[The 1949 Geneva Convention IV] provides … that ‘Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited’.”
In the chapter dealing with the “treatment of enemy property”, the manual further states:
The custom of war formerly permitted as an act of reprisal the destruction, by burning or otherwise, of a house whose inmates, though not possessing the rights of combatants, have fired on enemy troops. However, this practice is no longer lawful. [Article 33 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV] prohibits reprisals against protected persons and their property.
Moreover, the manual, in the part dealing with reprisals, states: “Reprisals against … civilian protected persons and their property in occupied territory and in the belligerent’s own territory, are … prohibited.”
In a footnote relating to this provision, the manual, referring to Articles 4 and 33 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, notes: “The effect of this rule is that reprisals are unlawful against all persons except enemy combatants and those few classes of civilians who are not protected persons.”
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981), in a part dealing with the protection of civilians, states: “It is forbidden: … to carry out reprisals against protected persons or property”.
The Pamphlet further states: “The Geneva Conventions and [the 1977 Additional Protocol I] prohibit reprisals against … enemy civilians in territory controlled by a belligerent”.
However, the Pamphlet also states:
The United Kingdom reserves the right to take proportionate reprisals against an enemy’s civilian population or civilian objects where the enemy has attacked our own civilians or civilian objects in violation of [the 1977 Additional Protocol I].
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states: “Additional Protocol I extends the categories of persons and objects against whom reprisals are prohibited to: … b. civilian objects”.
The manual also restates the interpretative declaration made by the UK upon ratification of the 1977 Additional Protocol I.
The manual explains:
This means that reprisals taken in accordance with the statement are permissible by and against the United Kingdom. However, commanders and commanders-in-chief are not to take reprisal action on their own initiative. Requests for authority to take reprisal action must be submitted to the Ministry of Defence and require clearance at Cabinet level.
At the CDDH, the United Kingdom, with respect to an amendment concerning the protection of civilian objects, stated:
The amendment proposed no ban on reprisals, the intention being to leave intact the existing ban on reprisals against civilian objects in occupied territory which were contained in the [1907 Hague Regulations] and [the 1949 Geneva Convention IV], and to retain the right of reprisal against such objects in enemy territory subject to the existing restraints in customary law, which were considerable. His delegation shared the misgivings expressed by the representative of Canada concerning the proposed ban on reprisals and agreed that such bans would have to be conditional on the improvement of the means of enforcement and supervision of the provisions on protection of the civilian population … If a ban was introduced, it should not, in his view, be absolute but qualified, so that the right should be retained, subject to strict legal restraint on its exercise, in the circumstances where a Party to the conflict was subjected to persistent attacks on its own civilians and civilian objects which did not cease despite repeated protests. In such circumstances a Party to the conflict would undoubtedly take reprisal measures.
In its written statement submitted to the ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons case in 1995, the United Kingdom stated:
To be lawful, a belligerent reprisal must meet two conditions. First, it must not be directed against persons or objects against which the taking of reprisals is specifically prohibited … The Geneva Conventions of 1949 prohibit the taking of reprisals against persons or objects protected by the Conventions … The Conventions do not preclude the taking of reprisals against … civilian objects in enemy territory. Additional Protocol I prohibits the taking of reprisals against … civilian objects (Article 52(1)) … The application of these provisions would have a greater effect on the retaliatory use of nuclear weapons. Again, however, these provisions are correctly regarded as innovative and thus as inapplicable to the use of nuclear weapons.
Upon ratification of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, the United Kingdom stated:
The obligations of Articles 51 and 55 are accepted on the basis that any adverse party against which the United Kingdom might be engaged will itself scrupulously observe those obligations. If an adverse party makes serious and deliberate attacks, in violation of Article 51 or Article 52 against the civilian population or civilians or against civilian objects, or, in violation of Articles 53, 54 and 55, on objects or items protected by those Articles, the United Kingdom will regard itself as entitled to take measures otherwise prohibited by the Articles in question to the extent that it considers such measures necessary for the sole purpose of compelling the adverse party to cease committing violations under those Articles, but only after formal warning to the adverse party requiring cessation of the violations has been disregarded and then only after a decision taken at the highest level of government. Any measures thus taken by the United Kingdom will not be disproportionate to the violations giving rise thereto and will not involve any action prohibited by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 nor will such measures be continued after the violations have ceased. The United Kingdom will notify the Protecting Powers of any such formal warning given to an adverse party, and if that warning has been disregarded, of any measures taken as a result.