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War crimes are codified in International Law. For instance, in Article 6-b of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg, in articles 2-3 of the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in Article 4 of the Statute of the International Criminal for Rwanda and Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In particular, war crimes in Article 8 of the Rome Statute are prosecuted when committed under an international armed conflict or in a non-international conflict. In this regard, in the elements of war crimes, a fundamental one is the existence of an armed conflict. A contrario of other serious international crimes. For example, in crimes against humanity, the existence of the armed conflict only establishes the jurisdiction, but it is not an element of the crime itself.

In this sense, war crimes have to satisfy the following elements: (1) existence of an armed conflict (which could be international or non international), (2) other conditions required under the international humanitarian law. And those can be, as follows:

  • serious violations of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 during an international armed conflict (8-2-a);
  • other acts that violate international humanitarian law as a whole in the context of international armed conflicts (8-2-b);
  • serious violations of Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions during non-international armed conflict (8-2-c);
  • serious violations of the Hague law on non-international armed conflict (Article 8-2-e);

*Image credits: U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum