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 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 virulent 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:
First Geneva Conventionfor the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field was adopted in 1864, significantly revised and replaced by the 1906 version, the 1929 version, and later the First Geneva Convention of 1949).
Second Geneva Conventionfor the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea (Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea was adopted in 1906, significantly revised and replaced by the Second Geneva Convention of 1949).
Two Additional Protocols were adopted in 1977 with the third one added in 2005, completing and updating the Geneva Conventions:
Protocol I (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.
Protocol II (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.
Protocol III (2005) relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem.
Leipzig War Crimes Trial
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.
London Charter / Nuremberg Trials 1945
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.
International Military Tribunal for the Far East 1946
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.
International Criminal Court 2002
Bodies of some of the hundreds of Vietnamese villagers who were killed by U.S. soldiers during the My Lai Massacre.
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:
Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, such as:
Willful killing, or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health
The following acts as part of a non-international conflict:
Murder, cruel or degrading treatment and torture
Directing attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers or UN peacekeepers
The following acts as part of an international conflict:
Civilians killed in shelling in eastern Ukraine. According to the HRW report, "The use of indiscriminate rockets in populated areas violates international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes."
Former SerbianPresidentSlobodan Milo?evi? was brought to trial charges with, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in three republics. The tribunal found the prosecution had according to its rules and procedures; enough evidence was tailored, prior to the defense presentation, that, "a reasonable trier of fact, could conclude, the accused was responsible for the crimes charged." This pertaining to superior responsibility, for the Bosnia and Croatia indictment's, and individual responsibility, for the Kosovo indictment. No conviction was established however, as he died in custody in 2006, before the trial could be concluded.
Former Liberian PresidentCharles G. Taylor was also brought to The Hague charged with war crimes; his trial stretched from 2007 to March 2011. He was convicted in April 2012 of Aiding and Abbetting and planning the commission of Crimes against Humanity, committed during the war under individual and command responsibility.
Omar al-Bashir, currently is head of state of Sudan, is charged with three counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes regarding the 2003- War in the Darfur region of Sudan. The first head of state charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court with current warrants of arrest actions in Darfur.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was indicted for allegedly ordering the killings of protesters and civilians and Crimes against Humanity, during the 2011 Libyan civil war, however he was killed before he could stand trial in October 2011.
Under the Nuremberg Principles, war crimes are different from crimes against peace which is 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.
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.
^ abProtocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, Switzerland.(Protocol I)
^ abS. P. MacKenzie "The Treatment of Prisoners of War in World War II" The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 66, No. 3. (Sep. 1994), pp. 487-520.
^ICRCCommentaries on the Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of WarArticle 5 "One category of military personnel which was refused the advantages of the Convention in the course of the Second World War comprised German and Japanese troops who fell into enemy hands on the capitulation of their countries in 1945 (6). The German capitulation was both political, involving the dissolution of the Government, and military, whereas the Japanese capitulation was only military. Moreover, the situation was different since Germany was a party to the 1929 Convention and Japan was not. Nevertheless, the German and Japanese troops were considered as surrendered enemy personnel and were deprived of the protection provided by the 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War."
^ICRCCommentaries on the Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of WarArticle 5 "Under the present provision, the Convention applies to persons who "fall into the power" of the enemy. This term is also used in the opening sentence of Article 4, replacing the expression "captured" which was used in the 1929 Convention (Article 1). It indicates clearly that the treatment laid down by the Convention is applicable not only to military personnel taken prisoner in the course of fighting, but also to those who fall into the hands of the adversary following surrender or mass capitulation."