Duke journal of comparative and international law, Vol. 20, no. 3, Spring 2010, p. 361-388
The prohibition on the use of reprisals is widely regarded as one of the most sacrosanct statements of the jus in bello applicable to the conduct of modern hostilities. Supporters of the bright line ban describe it as a vital “bulwark against barbarity.” In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the prohibition is “absolute”, despite the fact that the declarations of key states indicate residual ambiguity over the scope of permissible reprisals, particularly in the context of non-international armed conflicts. Reasonable reprisals grounded on an empirical assessment of their deterrent value or framed as appropriate punishment for prior acts of terror may be the most humane strategy for serving the strategic imperatives of civilized society confronted with a persistent and adaptive terrorist enemy. Thoughtful and multilateral reassessment of the lawful scope and rationale for reasonable reprisals is overdue.