War Crimes

What are war crimes?

War crimes are violations of international law that incur individual criminal responsibility. In contrast to the other atrocity crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity, war crimes must take place in the context of armed conflict, be it international or non-international and can apply to both combatants and non-combatants. There is no single document that codifies all war crimes; lists of crimes can be found in a number of treaties of international humanitarian law, criminal law and customary law and what constitutes a war crime may depend on whether the conflict is international in scope or not. Yet despite this diversity, war crimes can be divided into several themes:

  • war crimes against persons who require a particular form of protection;
  • war crimes against those providing humanitarian or peacekeeping assistance;
  • war crimes against property;
  • and war crimes involving prohibited means and methods of warfare.

Examples of war crimes include murder, torture and inhuman treatment, hostage taking, employing poison or poisoned weapons, intentional attacks against the civilian population, intentionally attacking buildings with no military purpose (those with religious, educational, historical, medical or scientific purposes), sexual violence and the enlistment of child soldiers under 15 years of age into active service.