War crimes

Violations in times of war as applied to civilians include: murder, rape, torture, illegal internment, enslavement, deportation, and harsh treatment or restrictions that affect physical and mental health. As applied to property, war crimes include plunder and wanton destruction or devastation of natural resources, productive land and communities, not justified by military objectives. Many military codes of justice provide for punishment of their occupying forces in cases of individual criminal activity against civilians; but collective military action against civilians, ordered or condoned, escapes justice.
The armed forces of every state have legal experts (judge advocates) whose primary responsibility is to administer military justice, maintain discipline and monitor the observance of the laws and customs of war. Under the rules concerning war crimes, which can be defined as violations of the laws and customs of war, the individual in his capacity as organ of the state was made a subject of international duties. The Charter annexed to the Agreement concerning the creation of the International War Tribunal (London, 8 August 1945) list the most important war crimes as: "Murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any other purposes of civilian populations of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the sea, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages or devastation not justified by military necessity". These acts were already recognized as war crimes by articles 46, 50, 52 and 56 of the [Hague Convention] (1907) and articles 2, 3, 4, 46 and 51 of the [Geneva Convention] (1929). Later, in 1949, in the fourth [Geneva Convention], several relevant articles were included, for example, Convention I, articles, 49 and 50; Convention II, articles 50 and 51; Convention III, articles 129 and 130; and Convention IV, articles 146 and 147.
War crimes in recent history include Nazi Germany's atrocities, involving the killing of millions of Jews, gypsies, and others considered as "Untermenschen" or sub-human. Whereas most war crimes result from the excesses of individuals, these were official crimes, as were certain massacres carried out by the USSR's NKVD. During World War II, Germany itself investigated some 10,000 documented war crimes against Germans, of which the files of 4,000 have survived. Of the latter, 50% cover crimes perpetrated in the USSR (concerning massacres of thousands of people, although many of the accused were acquitted for lack of evidence or because of mistaken identity). The German records also contain investigations of war crimes allegedly committed by nationals of the USA (including many air attacks on German Red Cross installations and low-level gunning of agricultural workers), of the UK (including shootings of German shipwrecked crews), of France (including lynching of air crews and ill-treatment of prisoners of war), of Poland (including the massacre of 5,000 members of the German minority in Poland), of Yugoslavia and of other allies. The British-American decision on area bombing (especially the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945) made no distinction between military and civil targets and resulted in the deaths of some 600,000 German civilians (in comparison with some 60,000 British victims of German air raids). The use of the atomic bomb in Japan by the USA has also been considered a war crime.

More recently such crimes include USA defoliation and village napalming in Vietnam, as well as incidents such as My Lai. A number of genocidal conflicts in Africa and Southeast Asia have occurred since the Second World War. The civilian casualties in Lebanon are due in part to war crimes of deliberate murder. The USSR's occupation of Afghanistan has resulted in the slaughter of thousands in the name of pacification or reprisals, but the illegality of that occupation may be said to make all Soviet acts there criminal. Inadequate mechanisms for the identification and punishment of war-crimes are responsible in large degree for their partly hidden nature and perpetuation.

(C) Cross-sectoral problems