Reporting Justice

I/2: War Crimes

I/2: War Crimes

Law Module 2:  War Crimes

War crimes (also known as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions) are violations of the laws and/or customs of war and cover a wide range of offences, including murder; rape; ill-treatment of prisoners of war; killing of hostages; plunder of public or private property; slave labor; wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages; and any armed attack not justified by military necessity.  We will examine the most serious of these crimes and the role the International Committee of the Red Cross has played in trying to prevent them.  We will also review several judgments on rape as war crime.

Key questions:

What are the Geneva Conventions of 1949?

Describe four offenses defined as “war crimes” by the Geneva Conventions.  Provide an example in a past conflict where each of these offenses has taken place.

Required Readings:

Timothy L.H. McCormack, “War Crimes,” World at Risk:  A Global Issues Sourcebook, Second Edition (CQ Press, 2010) (569-590), available at

In Crimes of War, read sections on War Crimes (420-422); Prisoners of War (328-332); Hors de Combat (218-219); Torture (400-401); International Committee of the Red Cross (245-247); Training in International Humanitarian Law (403).

International Committee of the Red Cross, “Penal Repression: Punishing War Crimes,” available at

Selected Online Resources:

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Project, available at

Judgment: The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, available at (contained in the Avalon Project archive at Yale Law School).

War Crimes: The World Affairs Blog Network, available at

United States Definitions and Laws Related to War Crimes, available at (provided through Cornell University Law School).

University of Minnesota Human Rights Library: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and Terrorism, available at (provides links to statutes and treatises regarding international humanitarian laws and various courts and tribunals prosecuting war crimes).

Human Rights Watch: War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity, available at (providing an overview of recent international activity related to crimes against humanity).