War crime

individual act constituting a serious violation of the laws of war
(Redirected from War crimes)

A war crime is a crime that happens in a war. There are international laws of war that say what people can do during wars and what they cannot do. A war crime breaks these rules.

Nazi Germany committed many war crimes during World War II. People at concentration camps like these were tortured, starved, murdered, and were caused great suffering

Today, these rules are international laws called the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Convention.


To be a war criminal, a crime must be part of a plan, or the crime has to be committed against many people and must be committed during a war.[1]

The idea of what a "war crime" is has changed over time. For example, during World War I, using poison gas in combat was not thought of as a war crime. Now it is.[1]

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created. Its goal is to look into and, if possible, punish people for war crimes. When the ICC was created, it came up with a longer list of war crimes. For example, its list was the first one to include types of sexual abuse like forcing women into sexual slavery.[2]pp. 8–10

Types of war crimesEdit

Here are some examples of crimes that the ICC lists as war crimes.[2]

General war crimesEdit

German poison gas attack during World War I. Today the use of chemical warfare is a war crime
Armenians being forced to leave their homes during the Armenian Genocide

These are war crimes whether they are committed against enemy soldiers or civilians or neutral persons.[2][3]

Sexual war crimesEdit

These are war crimes whether they are committed against enemy soldiers or civilians or neutral persons.[2]

War crimes against civiliansEdit

War crimes against civilians include:[2]

  • Attacking civilians, killing them, or destroying their property
  • Making an attack that is obviously going to kill and injure many civilians
  • Forcing civilians to leave their home countries
  • Attacking places like religious buildings, schools, and hospitals, which have nothing to do with war
  • Starving civilians on purpose, as a way of making war
  • Forcing children to become soldiers
  • Mutilating a civilian (for example, by cutting off an arm or hurting them in other ways that will show forever)

War crimes against enemy soldiersEdit

War crimes against enemy soldiers include:[2]

  • Hurting or killing a person who is unable to fight (for example, because they are injured or sick)
  • Hurting or killing a person who has surrendered
  • Hurting or killing a person who is clearly a military medic or a chaplain
  • Tricking enemy soldiers by using a flag to signal a truce, then attacking
  • Using flags, insignia, or uniforms worn by enemy soldiers or the United Nations as a disguise while attacking
  • Killing prisoners of war

War crimes against neutral personsEdit

War crimes against neutral persons include:[3]

  • Hurting or killing a person who is a peacekeeper
  • Hurting or killing a person whose country is not participating in an armed conflict (for example, a neutral warship in belligerent waters)

Examples of war crimesEdit

This table shows some examples of war crimes.

Incident Type of war crimes Ordered or Committed By Notes
World War I (1914-1918) Ottoman Empire
Armenian Genocide Deportation, mass murder, starvation, rape, and robbery of Armenian civilians[4][5][6] Ordered by the Young Turk government; committed by their military The Young Turk government ordered all Armenians living in Western Armenia to be gotten rid of. Most of the men were killed. Women, children, and the elderly were forced to go to Syria. Then many of them were killed.[6] Over 1.5 million Armenians died or were killed.[7]
Second Sino-Japanese War
Empire of Japan
Nanking Massacre Mass murder of civilians and prisoners of war; rape; robbery; setting buildings on fire[8] Committed by the Imperial Japanese Army[8] For six weeks after invading and taking over Nanjing, China, Japanese soldiers committed war crimes. About 200,000 people died or were killed.[9]
World War II (1939-1945) Nazi Germany
Invasion of Poland Mass murder of civilians, including hospital patients; attacking refugees and civilian buildings Committed by the German Army, Air Force, and Schutzstaffel (SS) The Nazis killed about 150,000–200,000 Polish civilians,[10] including over 20,000 in mass executions by mobile death squads, and about 6,000 hospital patients.[11]
World War II (1939-1945) Empire of Japan
Attack on Pearl Harbor Attacking neutral territory and murder of neutral persons Committed by the Imperial Japanese Navy On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft and submarines attacked a United States naval base at Pearl Harbor without a state of war and without explicit warning, killing 2,403 people, destroying 188 U.S. aircraft, and sinking eight battleships.[12][13]
World War II (1939-1945) United States
Biscari massacre Murder of prisoners of war Sergeant Horace T. West; Captain John T. Compton[14] During the Allied invasion of Sicily, American soldiers killed 76 Italian and German prisoners of war. West was found guilty in an American court martial; Compton was found not guilty.[14]
Vietnam War (1955-1975) United States
My Lai massacre Mass murder, beatings, torture, and rapes of civilians[15][16] Lt. William Calley While looking for enemy soldiers, a group of U.S. Army soldiers led by Calley killed 504 civilians (mostly women, children, infants, and elderly men).[17] Calley and 26 other soldiers were charged, but only Calley was found guilty.[17]
The Troubles (1968-1998) United Kingdom
Actions in Northern Ireland Torture; killing suspects (including a civilian) without trying to arrest them first Members of the British Army In the 1970s, members of the British Army commonly used torture, including waterboarding, on prisoners in Northern Ireland.[18][19][20][21][22] They also started a "shoot to kill" policy, where they would shoot and kill suspects without trying to arrest them first. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that this was illegal.[23]
Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) Iraq
Halabja chemical attack Use of chemical weapons; mass murder Ordered by Saddam Hussein;[24] led by Alī Ḥassan al-Majīd ("Chemical Ali")[25] In 1998, Iraq used poison gases to attack the Kurdish people in Halabja, Kurdistan. About 5,000 people were killed.[25] "Chemical Ali" was found guilty and sentenced to death.[26] A Dutch war crimes tribunal also found a Dutch businessman guilty for selling Iraq chemical weapons.[27]
War in Uganda (1985 – today) Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)
Many events Mass murder; kidnapping; forcing children to be soldiers and sex slaves; attacking civilians Led by Joseph Kony[28] The LRA is a rebel group in Uganda, started in 1987. Since 1987, the LRA has forced about 60,000 – 100,000 children to be soldiers, and made about 2 million people in central Africa have to leave their homes.[29] In 2002, Kony ordered the LRA to start attacking civilians.[28] The ICC has indicted Kony for 21 different war crimes. The Court has also indicted four other LRA leaders.[28]
War in Darfur (2003 – today) Sudan
Many events Mass murder of civilians; destroying civilian villages; rape; making civilians leave home; looting Led by Omar al-Bashir; committed by Sudanese military, police, and militia[30][31] The al-Bashir government has committed many crimes against people in Darfur who are not of the Arab, Muslim majority.[30] In 2014, the United Nations estimated that 300,000 had been killed and more than 1.5 million had been forced to leave their homes.[30] The ICC has indicted al-Bashir and five other leaders with war crimes.[31]

Photo galleryEdit

Related pagesEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 "What are war crimes?". International Criminal Court. Archived from the original on April 1, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 International Criminal Court (2011). Elements of Crimes (PDF). The Hague, Netherlands: PrintPartners Ipskamp. pp. 1–44. ISBN 978-92-9227-232-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-09. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Law of Armed Conflict: Neutrality
  4. Kieser, Hans-Lukas; Schaller, Dominik J. (2002). Der Völkermord an den Armeniern und die Shoah [The Armenian Genocide and the Shoah] (in German). Chronos. p. 114. ISBN 3-0340-0561-X.
  5. Walker, Christopher J. (1980). Armenia: The Survival of a Nation. London: Croom Helm. pp. 200–3. ISBN 978-0312049447.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bryce, Viscount James; Toynbee, Arnold (2000). Sarafian, Ara (ed.). The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915–1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Falloden (uncensored ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Gomidas. pp. 635–49. ISBN 0-9535191-5-5.
  7. Kifner, John (December 7, 2007). "Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview". The New York Times. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Scarred by History: The Rape of Nanjing". BBC. April 11, 2005. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  9. Beevor, Antony (2012). The Second World War. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 60. ISBN 978-0297844976.
  10. Piotrowski, Tadeusz (1998). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. McFarland. p. 301. ISBN 978-0786403714.
  11. Holocaust Research Project (2007). "Lange, Herbert; SS-Hauptsturmführer". Chelmno Death Camp Dramatis Personae. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  12. Yuma Totani (April 1, 2009). The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II. Harvard University Asia Center. p. 57. ISBN 9780674028708.
  13. Stephen C. McCaffrey (September 22, 2004). Understanding International Law. AuthorHouse. pp. 210–229.
  14. 14.0 14.1 United States; Department of the Army; Judge Advocate General's School (United States. Army) (1971). "The Army lawyer". The Army Lawyer. ISSN 0364-1287. OCLC 291344671.
  15. Brownmiller, Susan (1975). Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Simon & Schuster. pp. 103–105. ISBN 978-0-671-22062-4.
  16. "Murder in the name of war: My Lai". BBC News. July 20, 1998. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Moral Courage In Combat: The My Lai Story Archived 2022-02-04 at the Wayback Machine. Lecture by Hugh Thompson. Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics, United States Naval Academy, 2003.
  18. "British army 'waterboarded' suspects in 70s". BBC News. December 21, 2009. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  19. McDonald, Henry (May 4, 2012). "Man granted soldier murder appeal following waterboarding evidence". The Guardian. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  20. "Murder verdict of man sentenced to death quashed". The Irish Times. June 22, 2012. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  21. "Army 'waterboarding victim' who spent 17 years in jail is cleared of murder". BBC News. June 21, 2012. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  22. "Inside Castlereagh: 'We got confessions by torture'". The Guardian. October 11, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  23. "Killing of IRA men was 'human rights violation'". BBC News. May 4, 2001. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  24. "Saddam admits Iran gas attacks – Breaking News – World – Breaking News". Theage.com.au. 19 December 2006. Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Ali Hasan al-Majid: Iraqi official". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. December 11, 2014. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  26. "'Chemical Ali' executed in Iraq after Halabja ruling". BBC News. January 25, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  27. "Dutch man sentenced for role in gassing death of Kurds". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. December 23, 2005. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 International Criminal Court (October 14, 2005). "Warrant of Arrest unsealed against five LRA Commanders". Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  29. Urquhart, Conal (March 24, 2012). "Joseph Kony: African Union brigade to hunt down LRA leader". The Guardian Online. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Gladstone, Rick (January 23, 2014). "Number of Darfur's Displaced Surged in 2013". The New York Times Online. The New York Times Company. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  31. 31.0 31.1 "Darfur, Sudan". ICC Situations and Cases. International Criminal Court. February 2015. Archived from the original on January 21, 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2016.