IRRC No. 68

The principles of international humanitarian law (III)

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The word “neuter” comes from the Latin ne-uter, which means, neither the one, nor the other. Neutrality is an essentially neutral notion. It qualifies above all the abstention of someone who remains outside a conflict who does not openly express an opinion of either side.In international law, neutrality is the opposite of belligerency. It is the position adopted, in relation to two Powers at war, by a State not taking part in the struggle. The status of neutrality regulated by juridical rules and in particular by the Hague Conventions involves rights and duties. In short, it implies refraining from taking part officially, either directly or indirectly, in hostilities. In the first place, therefore, it is a concept of an essentially military character. However, as a result of a recent evolution in events and thought, some people tend to think that neutrality should also have effect in the economic sphere, in view of its importance today in the war potential of countries.

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