The Ethical and Legal Implications of Collective Punishment in Armed Conflict - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Ethical and Legal Implications of Collective Punishment in Armed Conflict

Group sanctions are penalties applied to an entire social or political category in response to any one individual acting against them, typically as punishment. Such punishment is banned during armed conflict as collective punishment constitutes war crime.

Studies show that members of democratic societies tend to favor punishment that targets individuals rather than entire groups, making collective punishment counterproductive.

Legal Issues

Collective Sanctions (CS) refer to any negative treatment imposed upon a group as a response to actions or misbehavior of one of its members, such as imprisonment, censorship, expulsion from military service and any form of stigmatisation and deprivation. When engaged in armed conflict both treaty and customary international law prohibit collective punishment; hence it is essential that we understand why this practice has been prohibited and how it interacts with other pertinent rules of international law.

Studies have demonstrated that people typically favor punishing individual wrongdoers over punishing groups of wrongdoers, perhaps reflecting the theory of social responsibility prevalent throughout Western society; in this view, each individual bears moral responsibility for actions taken by others within his/her immediate social environment, even when these were done without authorization or intent from them.

However, this theory of responsibility runs counter to contemporary Western legal and psychological discourses regarding personal accountability and ownership of action. Furthermore, few studies have directly investigated how people's willingness to inflict collective punishments is related to this particular theory of social responsibility.

Although collective punishment in occupied territories is an integral aspect of international law, its connection to other rules has rarely been explored. We propose that this prohibition is intimately connected with complementarity between International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and international Human Rights Law (IHRL), especially during belligerent occupation.

As such, any act of collective punishment likely violates both IHL and IHRL. Examples such as the blockade of Gaza and policy of withholding bodies of relatives of those who attack Israeli armed forces or civilians (withholding of bodies being an act of collective punishment). Furthermore, any sanctions which aim at punishing, intimidating or pressurising protected individuals for actions that do not contravene any laws may constitute collective punishment as long as authorities aware of this fact are aware.

Moral Issues

International humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law (IHRL) both uphold the prohibition of collective punishment as an essential principle. Although it remains difficult to define precisely what constitutes collective punishment, treaties and customary sources have made clear this prohibition extends to any sanctions applied on an entire group for acts committed by some members within that group; such sanctions are by their very nature inhumane and demeaning, breaching basic principles of humanity as described by ICRC.

At first, the idea of prohibiting collective punishment may seem counter-intuitive in situations of armed conflict, when there have been plenty of examples in history where collective punishment has been enforced for crimes committed by members of one group - although such punishment can usually be justified through some theory of moral responsibility which holds each person individually responsible.

However, psychological research into moral responsibility reveals that just deserts rationale is not the primary driver for individual support of collective punishment. Instead, individuals appear more motivated by moral disgust with violations to basic human rights - which explains why collective condemnation of crimes committed by some individuals can serve as such an effective deterrent mechanism against future violations of them.

By looking at Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as an example of their interplay between IHL and IHRL, this article seeks to examine how resorting to various forms of collective punishment in situations of belligerent occupation is likely to lead to additional violations of international law. House demolitions serve as an excellent illustration: while not considered collective punishment per se, they likely violate IHL rules on freedom of movement outlined in article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Social Issues

When someone commits a wrong, people feel an urge to punish them as part of moral duty; however, there are alternative forms of punishment which don't consider individual guilt or innocence as criteria for action; collective punishment is one such form of reprisal in which an entire group may be penalized for actions committed by only some of its members; these punishments tend to be unfair and have negative social implications.

People have historically utilized collective punishments as a form of deterrence against certain acts committed by others, known as family punishment, collective revenge, or vengeance. Such punishment is typically determined based on either family ties or belonging to one social group and can take many forms such as shutting off electricity or water supplies, destruction of houses or expulsion from regions altogether.

Collective sanctions may work because they increase the costs associated with violating a norm by making those breaking it aware that their fellow members may suffer as a consequence. This supposedly deters wrongdoers as they will become more cautious to adhere to rules so as not to expose others to risk.

However, the evidence in this area remains mixed. Some studies have demonstrated that people's perceptions of group entitativity impact how severely people punish its members for antisocial behaviors; yet other research shows they tend to support collective punishment against outgroups rather than their own group despite these feelings being generally shared within it.

Collective punishments violate international humanitarian law (IHL). Collective punishment is prohibited by both the 1949 Geneva Convention (Commentary GC III) and its Supplemental Protocol Relating to Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol VCLT), art 3 2. For any sanction or measure to qualify as collective punishment under IHL and ICLT requirements.

Political Issues

Collective punishment refers to any negative treatment administered against an entire group in response to one or more members' actions within it. Collective punishment can be enforced by authorities, outgroups, or members themselves and can have numerous political repercussions when used within an armed conflict context.

Collective punishment runs counter to both individual criminal responsibility and the concept that criminal acts can only be committed by persons aware of and in full control over their actions.

Therefore, it is crucial that authorities adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law (IHRL). IHL forbids all forms of collective punishment regardless of its stated objective based on complementarity as well as lex specialis.

However, collective punishment remains widely utilized outside of armed conflicts due to its perceived ability to effectively address norm violations. Indeed, recent literature indicates that collective sanctions may increase people's efficiency and willingness to conduct in-group policing by assigning responsibility for dealing with norm violators to fellow group members - in other words, this concept serves as a form of informal social control intended to prevent norm violations [1].

However, functional arguments for collective punishment should not obscure its fundamentally problematic legal basis; International Humanitarian Law and IHRL treaties explicitly prohibit any form of collective punishment in armed conflict no matter its purpose.

This article investigates the scope and application of this prohibition as it intersects with other relevant rules such as International Humanitarian Law's prohibition of discrimination and cruel and inhumane treatment, and looks into whether resorting to various forms of collective punishment during belligerent occupation might constitute additional violations of IHL and IHRL.

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