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What Are War Crimes?

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Saddam Hussein and 11 of his former lieutenants face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes — terms heard in cases ranging from Nazi Germany, to Rwanda, to the Balkans wars.

The following definitions of these crimes were taken from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court:


Genocide
This crime occurs when "the perpetrator killed one or more persons" who "belonged to a particular national, ethnical, racial or religious group," if the perpetrator "intended to destroy, in whole or in part, that national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Genocide can involve any of the following acts: killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births, by forcibly transferring children.

Crime Against Humanity

This crime involves conduct that "was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population." The possible elements of crimes against humanity are:

  • apartheid
  • deportation or forcible transfer of population
  • enforced disappearance of persons
  • enforced sterilization
  • enslavement
  • extermination
  • forced pregnancy
  • imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty
  • murder
  • persecution
  • rape
  • sexual slavery or enforced prostitution
  • sexual violence
  • torture

    War Crimes

    War crimes cover offenses against soldiers as well as civilians that take place in the context of armed conflict. In addition to the elements listed under crimes against humanity, the possible elements of war crimes are:

  • attacking civilian objects
  • attacking civilians
  • attacking civilians
  • attacking objects or persons using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions
  • attacking personnel or objects involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission
  • attacking protected objects
  • attacking undefended places
  • biological experiments
  • compelling participation in military operations
  • compelling service in hostile forces
  • cruel treatment
  • denying a fair trial
  • denying quarter
  • depriving the nationals of the hostile power of rights or actions
  • destroying or seizing the enemy's property
  • destroying or seizing the enemy's property
  • destruction and appropriation of property
  • displacing civilians
  • employing poison or poisoned weapons
  • employing prohibited bullets
  • employing prohibited gases, liquids, materials or devices
  • employing weapons, projectiles or materials or methods of warfare listed in the Annex to the Statute
  • excessive incidental death, injury, or damage
  • improper use of a flag of truce
  • improper use of a flag, insignia or uniform of the United Nations
  • improper use of a flag, insignia or uniform of the hostile party
  • inhuman treatment
  • killing or wounding a person hors de combat
  • medical or scientific experiments
  • murder
  • mutilation
  • outrages upon personal dignity
  • pillaging
  • sentencing or execution without due process
  • starvation as a method of warfare
  • taking hostages
  • treacherously killing or wounding
  • unlawful confinement
  • unlawful deportation and transfer
  • using protected persons as shields
  • using, conscripting and enlisting children
  • willfully causing great suffering
  • willful killing