Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: war crimes from Philip's Encyclopedia

Violations of international laws of war. The modern conception of war crimes followed the atrocities committed in the era of World War 2, which was followed by the Nuremberg Trials, the first trials of war criminals. Atrocities marked the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Kosovo. See also Geneva Convention


Summary Article: war crime from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Offence (such as murder of a civilian or a prisoner of war) that contravenes the internationally accepted laws governing the conduct of wars, particularly the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949. A key principle of the law relating to such crimes is that obedience to the orders of a superior is no defence. In practice, prosecutions are generally brought by the victorious side.

World War II crimes War crimes became a major issue in the aftermath of World War II. The United Nations War Crimes Commission was set up 1943 to investigate German atrocities. Leading Nazis were defendants in the Nuremberg trials 1945–46. High-ranking Japanese officers were tried in Tokyo before the International Military Tribunal, and others by the legal section of the Allied supreme command. In subsequent years the hunt for Nazis who escaped justice continued, led notably by Simon Wiesenthal (1909–2005).

Later war crimes Subsequent wars have had their full measure of crimes, examples being the My Lai massacre (1968) during the Vietnam War, the ethnic atrocities during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Spies Spies in wartime are not war criminals; technically they are ‘unprivileged belligerents’, can be killed, and have no right to be treated as prisoners of war.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article War Crimes
Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict

Introduction Historical World War I World War II Post-World War II Some Legal Problems Conclusion Further Reading ...

Full text Article war crimes
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

Acts contrary to rules of international law governing the conduct of war, mainly contained in the Hague Convention (1907) and the Geneva...

Full text Article Laws of War
Encyclopedia of Military Science

The laws of war pertain to both national and international laws that dictate what constitutes a just war, what constitutes acceptable behavior in wa

See more from Credo