What Are War Crimes And How Can They Be Punished?

2004 words - 8 pages

War crimes and the recognition of the term itself came at the start of the 20th century as a means to create individual accountability for actions in war. What are known as the laws of war or more specifically the laws in war (jus in bello) and their violation became legally punishable as war crimes. As a difficult term to define or pin down exactly, this essay will look at the origins of the laws of war chronologically then delve further into their violation and what constitutes war crimes in modern warfare. Further relevant examples of mass killings or genocide which constitute a part of war crimes and the targeting of unarmed civilians as a specific "final solution" strategy of war will be looked at from the holocaust to the Balkan wars and Rwandan genocide. The second aspect of the question looks at the different forms of punishment for the perpetrators of war crimes and what are the common repercussions in place internationally, while looking at the moral obligations of states to intervene and stop war crimes as well as make individuals accountable. These will be discussed concurrently with the war crimes committed historically. Further examples of different punishments handed out by various non- governmental organizations should highlight the positive humanitarian interest the world is taking in the need to protect innocent civilians in an outbreak of war.The advent of modern warfare can be traced back to the creation of independent nation states under the Peace of Westphalia, ironic due to the fact that the treaty was created to bring stability and peace to Europe. The creation of the independent states only served to promote national interests by maximizing state assets through war at the expense of other states without regard to society and any moral or ethical obligations this entailed. War was always a necessary part of state sovereignty and post- Westphalia brought no restrictions on its conduct or form of aggression, as Cicero wrote "in time of war the law is silent" . With the technological advancements of 20th century total warfare, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants became non-existent due to its destructiveness. The Hague peace conferences of 1899 and 1907 were the first attempts at codifying the laws of war to restrict its destruction and set some norms regarding warfare, "to humanize war through law" , so that perpetrators would implicitly be held accountable for any discretions. Conclusively, the Martens clause from the 1907 Hague Convention Regarding the Laws and Customs of War on Land provided the focal definition that secured the rights of citizens in war.The aftermath of World War I provided the first opportunity to attempt to use these proposed ideas on international justice under the Treaty of Versailles and trials were held against German and Turkish defendants accused of war crimes. However national sovereignty and authority over nationals could not be bypassed and sham trials held in Germany and...

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