What are War Crimes? – UPSC Prelims

What are War Crimes?
  • War crimes are defined as serious violations of humanitarian laws during a conflict.
  • The definition, established by the Rome Statute of the ICC , is derived from the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
  • It is based on the idea that individuals can be held liable for the actions of a state or its military.
  • The taking of hostages, willful killings, torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners of war, and forcing children to fight are some of the more obvious examples.
What is criteria for War Crimes?
To decide whether an individual or a military has committed a war crime, international humanitarian law lays down three principles:
  • Distinction: It is illegal to target objectives that are “expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objectives, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
  • Proportionality: Proportionality prohibits armies from responding to an attack with excessive violence. For example: If a soldier is killed, for example, you cannot bomb an entire city in retaliation.
  • Precaution: It requires parties to a conflict to avoid or minimise the harm done to the civilian population.
Gray Area in Definition:
  • Raids on a cities or villages, bombing residential buildings or schools, and even the killing of groups of civilians do not necessarily amount to war crimes, not if their military necessity is justified.
  • The same act can become a war crime if it results in unnecessary destruction, suffering and casualties that exceed the military gain from the attack.
  • Further, Civilian and military populations have become increasingly hard to distinguish
What is the difference between War Crimes & Crimes against Humanity?
  • The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (or Genocide convention) separates war crimes from genocide and crimes against humanity.
  • War crimes are defined as occurring in a domestic conflict or a war between two states.
  • While genocide and crimes against humanity can happen in peacetime or during the unilateral aggression of a military towards a group of unarmed people.