A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility.Examples of crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.
The concept of war crimes emerged at the turn of the twentieth century when the body of customary international law applicable to warfare between sovereign states was codified. Such codification occurred at the national level, such as with the publication of the Lieber Code in the United States, and at the international level with the adoption of the treaties during the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. Moreover, trials in national courts during this period further helped clarify the law.Following the end of World War II, major developments in the law occurred. Numerous trials of Axis war criminals established the Nuremberg principles, such as notion that war crimes constituted crimes defined by international law. Additionally, the Geneva Conventions in 1949 defined new war crimes and established that states could exercise universal jurisdiction over such crimes. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, following the creation of several international courts, additional categories of war crimes applicable to armed conflicts other than those between states, such as civil wars, were defined.
The trial of Peter von Hagenbach by an ad hoc tribunal of the Holy Roman Empire in 1474 was the first "international" war crimes trial, and also of command responsibility.He was convicted and beheaded for crimes that "he as a knight was deemed to have a duty to prevent", although he had argued that he was "just following orders".
In 1865, Henry Wirz, a Confederate States Army officer, was held accountable by a military tribunal and hanged for the appalling conditions at Andersonville Prison, where many Union prisoners of war died during the American Civil War.
The Hague Conventions were international treaties negotiated at the First and Second Peace Conferences at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1899 and 1907, respectively, and were, along with the Geneva Conventions, among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of secular international law.
The Geneva Conventions are four related treaties adopted and continuously expanded from 1864 to 1949 that represent a legal basis and framework for the conduct of war under international law. Every single member state of the United Nations has currently ratified the conventions, which are universally accepted as customary international law, applicable to every situation of armed conflict in the world. However, the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions adopted in 1977 containing the most pertinent, detailed and comprehensive protections of international humanitarian law for persons and objects in modern warfare are still not ratified by a number of States continuously engaged in armed conflicts, namely the United States, Israel, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and others. Accordingly, states 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.
Three conventions were revised and expanded with the fourth one added in 1949:
Two Additional Protocols were adopted in 1977 with the third one added in 2005, completing and updating the Geneva Conventions:
A small number of German military personnel of the First World War were tried in 1921 by the German Supreme Court for alleged war crimes.
The modern concept of war crime was further developed under the auspices of the Nuremberg Trials based on the definition in the London Charter that was published on August 8, 1945. (Also see Nuremberg Principles.) Along with war crimes the charter also defined crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, which are often committed during wars and in concert with war crimes.
Also known as the Tokyo Trial, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal or simply as the Tribunal, it was convened on May 3, 1946 to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for three types of crimes: "Class A" (crimes against peace), "Class B" (war crimes), and "Class C" (crimes against humanity), committed during World War II.
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. Several nations, most notably the United States, China, Russia, and Israel, have criticized the court. The United States still participates as an observer. Article 12 of the Rome Statute provides jurisdiction over the citizens of non-contracting states in the event that they are accused of committing crimes in the territory of one of the state parties.
War crimes are defined in the statute that established the International Criminal Court, which includes:
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".
To date, the present and former heads of state and heads of government that have been charged with war crimes include:
War crimes are serious violations of the rules of customary and treaty law concerning international humanitarian law that have become accepted as criminal offenses for which there is individual responsibility.Colloquial definitions of war crime 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 peaceful flag of truce, or using that same flag as a ruse to mount an attack on enemy troops. The use of chemical and biological weapons in warfare are also prohibited by numerous chemical arms control agreements and the Biological Weapons Convention. Wearing enemy uniforms or civilian clothes to infiltrate enemy lines for espionage or sabotage missions is a legitimate ruse of war, though fighting in combat or assassinating individuals behind enemy lines while so disguised is not, as it constitutes unlawful perfidy. Attacking enemy troops while they are being deployed by way of a parachute is not a war crime. However, Protocol I, Article 42 of the Geneva Conventions explicitly forbids attacking parachutists who eject from disabled aircraft and surrendering parachutists once landed. Article 30 of the 1907 Hague Convention IV – The Laws and Customs of War on Land explicitly prohibits belligerents to punish enemy spies without previous trial.
The rule of war, also known as the Law of Armed Conflict, permit belligerents to engage in combat. A war crime occurs when superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is inflicted upon an enemy.
War crimes also include 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. In 2008, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, which noted that "rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide"; see also war rape.In 2016, the International Criminal Court convicted someone of sexual violence for the first time; specifically, they added rape to a war crimes conviction of Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo.
War crimes also included deliberate attacks on citizens and property of neutral states, such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the attack on Pearl Harbor happened while the U.S. and Japan were at peace and without a just cause for self-defense, the attack was declared by the Tokyo Trials to go beyond justification of military necessity and therefore constituted a war crime.
War crimes are significant in international humanitarian lawbecause it is an area where international tribunals such as the Nuremberg Trials and Tokyo 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 VIII of the UN Charter.
Under the Nuremberg Principles, war crimes are different from crimes against peace. Crimes against peace include planning, preparing, initiating, or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances. 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.
The legalities of war have sometimes been accused of containing favoritism toward the winners ("Victor's justice"),as some controversies have not been ruled as war crimes. Some examples include the Allies' destruction of Axis cities during World War II, such as the firebombing of Dresden, the Operation Meetinghouse raid on Tokyo (the most destructive single bombing raid in history), and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In regard to the strategic bombing during World War II, there was no international treaty or instrument protecting a civilian population specifically from attack by aircraft, therefore the aerial attacks on civilians were not officially war crimes. The Allies at the trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo never prosecuted the Germans, including Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Hermann Göring, for the bombing raids on Warsaw, Rotterdam, and British cities during the Blitz as well as the indiscriminate attacks on Allied cities with V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, nor the Japanese for the aerial attacks on crowded Chinese cities. Although there are no treaties specific to aerial warfare, Protocol 1, Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions explicitly prohibits the bombardment of cities where civilian population might be concentrated regardless of any method. (see Aerial bombardment and international law).
Controversy arose when the Allies re-designated German POWs (under the protection of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War) as Disarmed Enemy Forces (allegedly unprotected by the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War), many of which then were used for forced labor such as clearing minefields.By December 1945, six months after the war had ended, it was estimated by French authorities that 2,000 German prisoners were still being killed or maimed each month in mine-clearing accidents. The wording of the 1949 Third Geneva Convention was intentionally altered from that of the 1929 convention so that soldiers who "fall into the power" following surrender or mass capitulation of an enemy are now protected as well as those taken prisoner in the course of fighting.
Under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), the death of non-combatants isn't necessarily a violation, there are many things to take into account. Civilians cannot be made the object of an attack, but the death/injury of civilians while conducting an attack on a military objective are governed under principles such as of proportionality and military necessity and can be permissible. Military necessity "permits the destruction of life of … persons whose destruction is incidentally unavoidable by the armed conflicts of the war; ... it does not permit the killing of innocent inhabitants for purposes of revenge or the satisfaction of a lust to kill. The destruction of property to be lawful must be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war"
For example, conducting an operation on ammunition depot or a terrorist training camp would not be prohibited because a farmer is plowing a field in the area, the farmer is not the object of attack and the operations would adhere to proportionality and military necessity. On the other hand, an extraordinary military advantage would be necessary to justify an operation posing risks of collateral death or injury to thousands of civilians. In "grayer cases" the legal question of whether the expected incidental harm is excessive may be very subjective. For this reason, States have chosen to apply a "clearly excessive" standard for determining whether a criminal violation has occurred.
When there is no justification for military action, such as civilians being made the object of attack, a proportionality analysis is unnecessary to conclude that the attack is unlawful.
For aerial strikes, pilots generally have to rely on information supplied external sources (Headquarters, ground troops) that a specific position is in fact a military target. In the case of former Yugoslavia, NATO pilots hit a civilian object (United States bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade) that was of no military significance, but the pilots had no idea of determining it aside from their orders. The committee ruled that "the aircrew involved in the attack should not be assigned any responsibility for the fact they were given the wrong target and that it is inappropriate to attempt to assign criminal responsibility for the incident to senior leaders because they were provided with wrong information by officials of another agency.".The report also notes that "Much of the material submitted to the OTP consisted of reports that civilians had been killed, often inviting the conclusion to be drawn that crimes had therefore been committed. Collateral casualties to civilians and collateral damage to civilian objects can occur for a variety of reasons."
The Rendulic Rule is a standard by which commanders are judged.
German General Lothar Rendulic was charged for ordering extensive destruction of civilian buildings and lands while retreating a suspected enemy attack in what is called scorched earth policy for the military purpose of denying the use of ground for the enemy. He overestimated the perceived risk but argued that Hague IV authorized the destruction because it was necessary to war. He was acquitted of that charge.
Under the "Rendulic Rule" persons must assess the military necessity of an action based on the information available to them at that time; they cannot be judged based on information that subsequently comes to light.
Universal jurisdiction allows states or international organizations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed, and regardless of the accused's nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting entity. Crimes prosecuted under universal jurisdiction are considered crimes against all, too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage.
Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are purposely committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg trials. Crimes against humanity have since been prosecuted by other international courts as well as in domestic prosecutions. The law of crimes against humanity has primarily developed through the evolution of customary international law. Crimes against humanity are not codified in an international convention, although there is currently an international effort to establish such a treaty, led by the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative.
In general, a civilian is "a person who is not a member of the police, the armed forces, or a fire department". The definition distinguishes from persons whose duties involve risking their lives to protect the public at large from hazardous situations such as terrorism, riots, conflagrations, and wars. Criminals are also excluded from the category, as members of the public, politicians, and the media want to distinguish between those who are law-abiding and those who are not.
An unlawful combatant, illegal combatant or unprivileged combatant/belligerent is a person who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war or is fighting outside of internationally recognized military forces. An unlawful combatant may be detained or prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action. The International Committee of the Red Cross points out that the terms are not defined in any international agreements.
The law of war refers to the component of international law that regulates the conditions for war and the conduct of warring parties. Laws of war define sovereignty and nationhood, states and territories, occupation, and other critical terms of international law.
The Nuremberg principles are a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations to codify the legal principles underlying the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi party members following World War II.
Victor's justice is a pejorative term referring to the unjust prosecution of the defeated party's acts in a conflict by the victorious party. Victor's justice generally involves excessive or unjustified punishment of defeated parties and light punishment or clemency for offenses committed by victors. Opponents argue that the difference in rules amounts to hypocrisy and revenge under the guise of retributive justice, leading to injustice, and targets of the label may consider it derogatory.
The Charter of the International Military Tribunal – Annex to the Agreement for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis was the decree issued by the European Advisory Commission on 8 August 1945 that set down the rules and procedures by which the Nuremberg trials were to be conducted.
International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.
International criminal law is a body of public international law designed to prohibit certain categories of conduct commonly viewed as serious atrocities and to make perpetrators of such conduct criminally accountable for their perpetration. The core crimes under international law are genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. This article also discusses crimes against international law, which may not be part of the body of international criminal law.
In the context of war, perfidy is a form of deception in which one side promises to act in good faith with the intention of breaking that promise once the unsuspecting enemy is exposed. Perfidy constitutes a breach of the laws of war and so is a war crime, as it degrades the protections and mutual restraints developed in the interest of all parties, combatants and civilians.
Command responsibility, sometimes referred to as the Yamashita standard or the Medina standard, and also known as superior responsibility, is the legal doctrine of hierarchical accountability for war crimes.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted unanimously on April 28, 2006, after reaffirming resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1296 (2000) concerning the protection of civilians in armed conflict and Resolution 1631 (2005) on co-operation between the United Nations and regional organisations, the Council stressed a comprehensive approach to the prevention of armed conflict and its recurrence.
A war crimes trial is the trial of persons charged with criminal violation of the laws and customs of war and related principles of international law committed during armed conflict.
Air warfare must comply with laws and customs of war, including international humanitarian law by protecting the victims of the conflict and refraining from attacks on protected persons.
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in war. The singular term Geneva Convention usually denotes the agreements of 1949, negotiated in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–1945), which updated the terms of the two 1929 treaties, and added two new conventions. The Geneva Conventions extensively defined the basic rights of wartime prisoners, established protections for the wounded and sick, and established protections for the civilians in and around a war-zone. The treaties of 1949 were ratified, in whole or with reservations, by 196 countries. Moreover, the Geneva Convention also defines the rights and protections afforded to non-combatants; however, because the Geneva Conventions are about people in war, the articles do not address warfare proper—the use of weapons of war—which is the subject of the Hague Conventions, and the bio-chemical warfare Geneva Protocol.
Mass atrocity crimes have historically referred to the three legally defined international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Ethnic cleansing is widely regarded as a fourth mass atrocity crime by legal scholars and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field, despite not yet being recognized as an independent crime under international law.
The war crimes trial of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Yugoslavia, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) lasted from February 2002 until his death in March 2006. Milošević faced 66 counts of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The term international framework of sexual violence refers to the collection of international legal instruments – such as treaties, conventions, protocols, case law, declarations, resolutions and recommendations – developed in the 20th and 21st century to address the problem of sexual violence. The framework seeks to establish and recognise the right all human beings to not experience sexual violence, to prevent sexual violence from being committed wherever possible, to punish perpetrators of sexual violence, and to provide care for victims of sexual violence. The standards set by this framework are intended to be adopted and implemented by governments around the world in order to protect their citizens against sexual violence.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East Charter, also known as the Tokyo Charter, was the decree issued by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Allied-occupied Japan, on January 19th, 1946 that set down the laws and procedures by which the Tokyo Trials were to be conducted. The charter was issued months following the surrender of Japan on September 2nd, 1945, which brought World War II to an end.
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