IRRC No. 192

Sources of the recognition of belligerent status

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“Whenever a large organized group believes it has the right to resist the sovereign power and considers itself capable of resorting to arms, war between the two parties should take place in the same manner as between nations…” This statement by de Vattel in the 19th century seemed destined to take its place as a part of positive law, constituting part of what was known as recognition of belligerency, tantamount to the recognition by the established government of an equal status for insurgents and regular belligerents. When a civil war became extensive enough, the State attacked would understand that it was wisest to acknowledge the existence of a state of war with part of the population. This would, at the same time, allow the conflict to be seen in a truer light. The unilateral action of the legal government in recognizing belligerency would be the condition for granting belligerent rights to the parties. It would constitute a demonstration of humanity on the part of the government of the State attacked and would also provide that government with prospects for effective pursuit of the war. By admitting that it was forced to resort to war, it would at least have its hands free to make war seriously.

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