War Crimes

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Acts that violate the international laws, treaties, customs, and practices governing military conflict between belligerent states or parties.

War crimes may be committed by a country's regular armed forces, such as its army, navy, or air force, or by irregular armed forces, such as guerrillas and insurgents. Soldiers may be punished for war crimes, as may military and political leaders, members of the judiciary,

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industrialists, and civilians who are enlisted by a belligerent to contravene the RULES OF WAR.

However, isolated instances of TERRORISM and single acts of rebellion are rarely, if ever, treated as war crimes punishable under the international rules of warfare. Instead, they are ordinarily treated as criminal violations punishable under the domestic laws of the country in which they occur.

Most war crimes fall into one of three categories: crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and traditional war crimes. Crimes against peace include the planning, commencement, and waging of aggressive war, or war in violation of international agreements. Aggressive war is broadly defined to include any hostile military act that disregards the territorial boundaries of another country, disrespects the political independence of another regime, or otherwise interferes with the sovereignty of an internationally recognized state. Wars fought in self-defense are not aggressive wars.

Following WORLD WAR II, for example, the Allies prosecuted a number of leading Nazi officials at the NUREMBERG TRIALS for crimes against peace. During the war, the Nazis had invaded and occupied a series of sovereign states, including France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Austria. Because those invasions were made in an effort to accumulate wealth, power, and territory for the Third Reich, Nazi officials could not claim to be acting in self-defense. Thus, those officials who participated in the planning, initiation, or execution of those invasions were guilty of crimes against peace.

Hermann Göring, chief of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force), was one Nazi official who was convicted of crimes against peace at the Nuremberg trials. The international military tribunal presiding at Nuremberg, composed of judges selected from the four Allied powers (France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States), found that Göring had helped plan and carry out the invasions of Poland and Austria and had...

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