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The equal application of the laws of war: a principle under pressure

31-12-2008 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 872, by Adam Roberts

The “equal application” principle is that in international armed conflicts, the laws of war apply equally to all who are entitled to participate directly in hostilities, irrespective of the justice of their causes. The principle, which depends on maintaining separation between jus ad bellum and jus in bello, faces serious challenges in contemporary armed conflicts and discourses. The rival proposition – that the rights and obligations of combatants under the laws of war should apply in a fundamentally unequal manner, depending on which side is deemed to be the more justified – is unsound in conception, impossible to implement effectively, and dangerous in its effects.

  Adam Roberts is Senior Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University, Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and President-Elect of the British Academy. He was Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford University in 1986-2007.  


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