Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Retorsion Definition:

Discriminatory actions against the citizens of one state by and within that of another, as a gentle reprisal against some perceived injustice imposed upon their own citizens in and by the targeted state.

According to Edwin Glenn:

"Retorsion consists in certain acts by one state directed generally to the subjects of another state, to induce the latter state to cease a discrimination against the subjects of the latter."

It is of the nature of an act of retorsion that:

"... one nation, in its transactions with the other, requites unfriendly or discourteous conduct by conduct of either the same nature, or injurious in some other way, but not transgressing the rules of international law in any way.

"Retorsion is distinguished from reprisals by the fact that the action taken is in itself legal, but unfriendly." 1

Retorsion may take the form of discriminatory immigration, travel, taxation or fishing rights treatment to the nationals of the targeted state.

Joseph Chitty's translation of Emerich de Vattel's Law of Nations spelled the term retortion and described it as follows:

"When a sovereign is not satisfied with the manner in which his subjects are treated by the laws and customs of another nation, he is at liberty to declare that he will treat the subjects of that nation in the same manner as his are treated. This is what is called retortion."


  • Glenn, Edwin, Handbook of International Law (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1895), page 157.
  • Keith, A. B., Wheaton's Elements of International Law, 6th Ed. (London: Stevens and Sons, 1929), page 622 [NOTE #1]
  • Vattell, Emerich de, The Law of Nations, transl. by J. Chitty (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson & Co. Law Bookselers, 1883), page 282.

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!