Skip to main content


Back to Resources

The legal and practical elements of surrender in international humanitarian law

8 May, 2023



This study explores the legal and practical elements of combatants’ behavior in the process of surrendering or while accepting a surrender.

It outlines the existing norms on international humanitarian law in the area of surrender, analyses and discusses international practice based on real-life military examples, and provides standards that should be upheld in this process.

The paper is divided into four sections: 1) the applicable international legal framework and legal norms on surrender during armed conflict under IHL; 2) the phases of surrender (attempted surrender, processing surrender, completed surrender); 3) the restrictions on the use of force applicable at a given stage; and 4) the impact of technology on surrender in the case of the war in Ukraine.

Concluding remarks reflect on the main findings and considerations identified in this study.

The Annex includes the three-stage test for effective surrender.

Combatants who surrender are considered to have “fallen into the power” of the opposing forces. This is so once the adversary has concluded that the surrender is sincere and unconditional, that the surrendering combatants are no longer a threat, and that they are unable or unwilling to engage in hostilities or defend themselves. The surrendering combatants are now safe from harm.