S: ICRC – http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter44_rule156 (last access: 14 November 2013); EncBrit – http://global.britannica.com/topic/war-crime (last access: 11 July 2015).
N: 1. The majority of war crimes involve death, injury, destruction or unlawful taking of property. However, not all acts necessarily have to result in actual damage to persons or objects in order to amount to war crimes. This became evident when the Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court were being drafted. It was decided, for example, that it was enough to launch an attack on civilians or civilian objects, even if something unexpectedly prevented the attack from causing death or serious injury.
2. 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).
3. 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. 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, but are different offenses under international law.
4. War crimes includes 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 flag of truce, or using that same flag as a ruse of war to mount an attack. 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 damaged airplanes, and surrendering parachutists once landed. War crimes 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.
War crimes are significant in international humanitarian law because 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 which is planning, preparing, initiating, or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances.
S: 1. ICRC – http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter44_rule156 (last access: 14.11.2013). 2. BWC – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1420133.stm (last access: 12 December 2013). 3 & 4. CriminaliseWar.org – http://criminalisewar.org/war-criminals/ (last access: 12 December 2013).