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A precise definition of punishment in the context of armed conflict is not possible given the sheer variety of forms that punishment may take and the myriad circumstances in which punishment may be employed. In a general sense, the term may be said to encompass intentionally inflicted penalties that cause hardship or a deprivation of rights or liberties and that relate to and are inflicted before, during, or after an armed conflict in response to a breach or perceived breach by the target. This conception of punishment brings within its scope everything from interstate sanctions imposed in a preconflict phase to the postconflict prosecution of individuals who violated international law during the conflict.

Two theories seeking to answer the question “Why punish?” have achieved enduring prominence ...

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