War crime

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Image:My Lai massacre.jpg
The My Lai massacre.

In the context of war, a war crime is a punishable offense under International Law, for violations of the laws of war by any person or persons, military or civilian. Every violation of the law of war in an inter-state conflict is a war crime, while violations in internal conflicts are typically limited to the local jurisdiction. In essence, the term "war crime" represents the concept of an international jurisdiction as applicable to the most severe crimes, in areas where government is dysfunctional and society is in a state of turmoil.

The article "list of war crimes" summarizes war crimes committed since the Hague Conventions of 1907. In addition, those incidents which have been judged in a court of law to be Crimes Against Peace and Crimes against Humanity that have been committed since these crimes were first defined (in the London Charter, August 8, 1945) are also included.

The article "list of war criminals" is a list of war criminals as according to the conduct and rules of warfare as defined by the Nuremberg Trials following World War II as well as earlier agreements such as Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949.


[edit] Crimes

War crimes include violations of established protections of the laws of war, but also include failures to adhere to norms of procedure and rules of battle, such as attacking those displaying a flag of truce, or using that same flag as a ruse of war to mount an attack. It has been incorrectly reported that "Another good example is attacking enemy troops while they are being deployed by way of a parachute". However, Protocol I, Art.42 of the Geneva Conventions forbids attacking parachutists who eject from damaged airplanes, and surrendering parachutists once landed, but specifically excludes airborne troops from protection [1]. The definition of the term "war crime" usually varies between trials to convict the defendants with a more specific crime that they may have committed.

It comprises such acts as mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians. War crimes are sometimes part of instances of mass murder and genocide though these crimes are more broadly covered under international humanitarian law described as crimes against humanity.

War crimes are significant in international humanitarian law because it is an area where international tribunals such as the Nuremberg Trials have been convened. Recent examples are the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which were established by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Under the Nuremberg Principles, the supreme international crime is that of commencing a war of aggression, because it is the crime from which all war crimes follow. The definition of such a crime is planning, preparing, initiating, or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances. Also, participating in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any such act constitutes such a crime.

[edit] International Criminal Court

On July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court, a treaty based court located in The Hague, came into being for the prosecution of war crimes committed on or after that date. However, several nations, most notably the United States, China, and Israel, have criticized the court, refused to participate in it or permit the court to have jurisdiction over their citizens. Note, however, that a citizen of one of the 'objector nations' could still find himself before the Court if he were accused of committing war crimes in a country that was a state party, regardless of the fact that their country of origin was not a signatory.

[edit] Definition

War crimes are defined in the statute that established the International Criminal Court, which includes:

  1. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, such as:
    1. Willful killing, or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health
    2. Torture or inhumane treatment
    3. Unlawful wanton destruction or appropriation of property
    4. Forcing a prisoner of war to serve in the forces of a hostile power
    5. Depriving a prisoner of war of a fair trial
    6. Unlawful deportation, confinement or transfer
    7. Taking hostages
  2. The following acts as part of an international conflict:
    1. Directing attacks against civilians
    2. Directing attacks against humanitarian workers or UN peacekeepers
    3. Killing a surrendered combatant
    4. Misusing a flag of truce
    5. Settlement of occupied territory
    6. Deportation of inhabitants of occupied territory
    7. Using poison weapons
    8. Using civilian shields
    9. Using child soldiers
  3. The following acts as part of a non-international conflict:
    1. Murder, cruel or degrading treatment and torture
    2. Directing attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers or UN peacekeepers
    3. Taking hostages
    4. Summary execution
    5. Pillage
    6. Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution or forced pregnancy

However the court only has jurisdiction over these crimes where they are "part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes" <ref> Rome Statute </ref>

[edit] Prominent indictees

To date, the former heads of state and heads of government that have been charged with war crimes include Karl Dönitz of Germany, ex Prime Minister Hideki Tojo of Japan and former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević was brought to trial for war crimes, but died before the trial could be concluded. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is accused of committing war crimes and was sentenced to death by hanging on 5 November 2006.

[edit] Ambiguity

The Geneva Conventions are a treaty that represent a legal basis for International Law with regard to conduct of warfare. Not all nations are signatories to the GC, and as such retain different codes and values with regard to wartime conduct. Some signatories have routinely violated the Geneva Conventions in a way which either uses the ambiguities of law or political maneuvering to sidestep the laws formalities and principles.

Because the definition of a state of "war" may be debated, the term "war crime" itself has seen different usage under different systems of international and military law. It has some degree of application outside of what some may consider to be a state of "war," but in areas where conflicts persist enough to constitute social instability.

In determining the legality of acts committed during war, favoritism toward states that were winners in wars has sometimes been alleged, and it is sometimes stated: "History is winners' history", since certain actions perpetrated by states that were the "winners" have not been ruled as war crimes. Some examples include the United States' destruction of civilian targets through the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and mass firebombing attacks on Axis cities such as Tokyo, Kobe, and Dresden in World War II[citation needed]. Others cite the Indonesian occupation of East Timor between 1976 and 1999.

In areas where International Law is yet unresolved, some ambiguity remains with regard to which crimes are considered as such and which are not.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. Protocol I, Art.42, item 3 8th June 1977

[edit] Further reading

[edit] Footnotes


International criminal law
Sources of law:
Charter of the IMT - Crime against international law - Crime against humanity - Crime against peace
Crime of apartheid - Crime of genocide - Customary law - Laws of war - Nuremberg Principles
Peremptory norm - Rome Statute - Universal jurisdiction - War crime - War of aggression
War responsibility trials in Finland - International Military Tribunal for Europe
International Military Tribunal for the Far East - Khabarovsk War Crime Trials
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - Tribunal for Rwanda - Court for Sierra Leone
International Criminal Court
List of war crimes
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War crime

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