What is a war crime?

War crimes are understood to mean serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during international or non-international armed conflicts. Several legal texts contain definitions of war crimes, namely the Statute of the International Military Tribunal established after the Second World War in Nuremberg, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, the Statutes and case law of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Definitions of the notion of war crime are also given in the legislation and case law of various countries. It is important to note that one single act may constitute a war crime. The following acts are, among others, included in the definition of war crimes:

  • wilful killing of a protected person (e.g. wounded or sick combatant, prisoner of war, civilian);
  • torture or inhuman treatment of a protected person;
  • wilfully causing great suffering to, or serious injury to the body or health of, a protected person;
  • attacking the civilian population;
  • unlawful deportation or transfer;
  • using prohibited weapons or methods of warfare;
  • making improper use of the distinctive red cross or red crescent emblem or other protective signs;
  • killing or wounding perfidiously individuals belonging to a hostile nation or army;
  • pillage of public or private property.

Excerpted from https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/5kzmnu.htm, retrieved January 4th, 2016.