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A war crime is more and other than war. It is an atrocity beyond the usual barbaric bounds of war. It is legal definition growing out of custom and tradition supported by every civilized nation in the world including our own. It is an act beyond the pale of acceptable actions even in war.
~ William Crandell

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility.

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 Powers 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.

War crimes can often overlap with crimes against humanity.

Examples of war crimes

  • Genocide
  • Deliberate attack of a civilian population
  • Use of torture
  • Inhumane treatment of prisoners
  • Use of child soldiers
  • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution or forced pregnancy
  • Pillaging
  • Taking hostages
  • Looting
  • Unlawful wanton destruction or appropriation of property
  • Cannibalism
  • Declaring that no quarter will be given (killing a surrendered enemy)
  • Use of poison weapons, such as mustard gas
  • Unlawful deportation, confinement or transfer (ethnic cleansing)
  • Destruction of religious/historic artifacts and monuments
  • Use of human shields
  • Use of civilians as slave labor
  • Death marches
  • Sectarianism
  • War crime denial (like Holocaust denial for example)
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