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International Relations

War Crimes

  • 04 Mar 2022
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: International Criminal Court, War crimes, 1949 Geneva Conventions, Genocide convention.

For Mains: Important International Institutions, Russia’s war over Ukraine, International Laws on War Crimes.

Why in News?

Recently, the International Criminal Court(ICC) has announced that it will open an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. There are specific international standards for war crimes.

What is the International Criminal Court?

  • It is a permanent judicial body created by the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC (its founding and governing document), and began functioning on 1st July 2002 when the Statute came into force.
  • Headquarter: The Hague, Netherlands
  • Members:
    • 123 nations are States Parties to the Rome Statute and recognise the ICC’s authority.
    • The USA, China, Russia, and India are not the members.
  • The forum was established as a court of last resort to prosecute offences that would otherwise go unpunished, and has jurisdiction over four main crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

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 are the Geneva Conventions (1949)?

  • The Geneva Conventions (1949) and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.
  • They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
    • The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war.
    • The second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.
    • The third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war.
    • The fourth Geneva Convention affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.
  • India is a party to the Geneva Convention.

What is Criteria for War Crimes?

  • Criteria: 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?

Source: IE

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