War crime

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A war crime is defined as "any of various crimes, such as genocide or the mistreatment of prisoners of war, committed during a war and considered in violation of the conventions of warfare." [1]

"Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: 'Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including... wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, ...taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.'" [2]

Tarik Kafala, in his "What is a war crime?" for the July 31, 2003, BBC/UK, writes:

"At the heart of the concept of war crimes is the idea that an individual can be held responsible for the actions of a country or that nation's soldiers.

"Genocide, crimes against humanity, mistreatment of civilians or combatants during war can all fall under the category of war crimes. Genocide is the most severe of these crimes.

"The body of laws that define a war crime are the Geneva Conventions, a broader and older area of laws referred to as the Laws and Customs of War, and, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY)."

"The statutes of The Hague tribunal say the court has the right to try suspects alleged to have violated the laws or customs of war in the former Yugoslavia since 1992. Examples of such violations are given in article 3:

  • Wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity
  • Attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings
  • Seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science
  • Plunder of public or private property.

"The tribunal defines crime against humanity as crimes committed in armed conflict but directed against a civilian population. Again a list of examples is given in article 5:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape
  • Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds.

"Genocide is defined by the tribunal as 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.'

"But the law on war crimes is continually evolving.

"In February 2001, the tribunal in The Hague delivered a ruling that made mass systematic rape and sexual enslavement in a time of war a crime against humanity.

"Mass rape, or rape used as a tool of war, was then elevated from being a violation of the customs of war to one of the most heinous war crimes of all - second only to genocide."

U.S. Military Law


  • "It has never happened in history that a nation that has won a war has been held accountable for atrocities committed in preparing for and waging that war. We intend to make this one different. What took place was the use of technological material to destroy a defenseless country. From 125,000 to 300,000 people were killed... We recognize our role in history is to bring the transgressors to justice." -- Ramsey Clark, 1991.

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