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war crimes,in international law, violations of the laws of war (see war, laws ofwar, laws of,
in international law, rules and principles regulating an armed conflict between nations. These laws are designed to minimize the destruction of life and property, to proscribe cruel treatment of noncombatants and prisoners of war, and to establish conditions under
..... Click the link for more information. ). Those accused have been tried by their own military and civilian courts, by those of their enemy, and by expressly established international tribunals.
The records of the war crimes trials after World War II provide one of the most comprehensive formulations of the concept of war crimes. During that war the Allies agreed to try Axis war criminals. In Aug., 1945, Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the United States established a tribunal at Nuremberg to try military and civilian Axis leaders whose alleged crimes were directed at more than one national group. The trial opened in Nov., 1945. Voluminous evidence was presented to prove the plotting of aggressive warfare, the extermination of civilian populations (especially the Jews), the widespread use of slave labor, the looting of occupied countries, and the maltreatment and murder of prisoners of war. Among those sentenced to death (1946) were Hermann GoeringGoering or Göring, Hermann Wilhelm
, 1893–1946, German National Socialist leader. In World War I he was a hero of the German air force.
..... Click the link for more information. , Joachim von RibbentropRibbentrop, Joachim von
, 1893–1946, German foreign minister (1938–45). After World War I he became a wealthy champagne merchant. He joined the National Socialist party in 1932 and impressed Adolf Hitler with his knowledge of foreign languages and countries; he soon
..... Click the link for more information. , and Julius StreicherStreicher, Julius
, 1885–1946, German National Socialist (Nazi) leader. An early party member, originally a schoolteacher, he aired his sadistic and anti-Semitic mania in his periodical, Der Stürmer.
..... Click the link for more information. . Hjalmar SchachtSchacht, Hjalmar Horace Greeley
, 1877–1970, German financier. He held executive positions in several major German banks before becoming (1923) commissioner of currency. Inflation had reached its height and the paper mark had become worthless.
..... Click the link for more information. and Franz von PapenPapen, Franz von
, 1879–1969, German politician. Appointed (1913) military attaché to the German embassy in Washington, he was implicated in espionage activities that led (1915) the U.S. government to request his recall.
..... Click the link for more information. were acquitted. The court did not convict Nazi organizations or the German general staff. In 1961, Israel captured, tried, and later executed Adolf EichmannEichmann, Adolf
, 1906–62, German National Socialist official. A member of the Austrian Nazi party, he headed the Austrian office for Jewish emigration (1938). His zeal in deporting Jews brought him promotion (1939) to chief of the Gestapo's Jewish section.
..... Click the link for more information. .
A trial of 28 alleged Japanese war criminals was conducted (1946–47) by an 11-nation tribunal in Tokyo. Evidence similar to that presented against the Nazis brought death sentences to Hideki TojoTojo, Hideki
, 1884–1948, Japanese general and statesman. He became prime minister after he forced Konoye's resignation in Oct., 1941. His accession marked the final triumph of the military faction which advocated war with the United States and Great Britain.
..... Click the link for more information. and others. The U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal that was based on the ground that the international court was unlawful. There were many trials in national civil and military courts, including those of the Japanese generals Tomoyuki YamashitaYamashita, Tomoyuki
, 1888–1946, Japanese general. He studied military science in Germany. He commanded (1941) the Malayan campaign and forced Singapore to surrender (Feb., 1942). He also commanded during the unsuccessful defense (Oct., 1944–Aug.
..... Click the link for more information. and Masaharu Homma.
Critics have questioned the legal basis of some of the charges at the post–World War II trials. Individuals were found guilty of acts considered legal, or even required, by their nation at the time; such findings represent a violation of the concept of sovereigntysovereignty,
supreme authority in a political community. The concept of sovereignty has had a long history of development, and it may be said that every political theorist since Plato has dealt with the notion in some manner, although not always explicitly.
..... Click the link for more information. . The plotting or carrying out of aggressive war had not been previously and explicitly called criminal, and the judges tended to define it very narrowly. A defendant was generally found guilty only if he had been involved in developing the policy, but not if he had simply carried it out.
Critics have also termed the trials an act of vengeance by the victors and questioned their practical use as a precedent. Personal liability for national action is very difficult to prove conclusively, and a nation will be reluctant to try its own leaders. Therefore, effective prosecution may be possible only if a nation is defeated (and then perhaps only if the documents are captured, as they were after World War II).
Both critics and supporters of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War have justified their positions on the basis of the post–World War II trials. Several Americans were tried for war crimes in this war, and Lt. William Calley was found guilty (see My Lai incidentMy Lai incident
, a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War. On Mar. 16, 1968, a unit of the U.S. army's Americal division, led by Lt. William L.
..... Click the link for more information. ) of particularly disturbing acts against civilians that for many became emblematic of the horrors of the Vietnam conflict. In the 1990s, in reaction to war atrocities committed by various parties during the breakup of YugoslaviaYugoslavia
, Serbo-Croatian Jugoslavija, former country of SE Europe, in the Balkan Peninsula. Belgrade was the capital and by far the largest city. Yugoslavs (i.e.
..... Click the link for more information. , the United Nations established a tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, and attempted to gather evidence for prosecutions; Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were charged or tried, including top civilian and military Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders. The highest ranking official to be tried was former Yugoslavian president Slobodan MiloševićMilošević, Slobodan
, 1941–2006, Yugoslav and Serbian political leader, president of Serbia (1989–97) and of Yugoslavia (1997–2000), b. Požarevac, Serbia.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose trial began in 2002 and was still underway when he died in 2006. In 2000 the Hague tribunal officially established rape, which was rampant during the Yugoslav civil strife, as a war crime. A UN tribunal was also set up (1997) in Tanzania to try those responsible for Hutu massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and in Sierra Leone to try persons accused of atrocities in that country's civil war (1991–2001).
Despite increasing international recognition of the need to prosecute war crimes, such offenses are still often unpunished. Although there were many calls for prosecution of former Khmer RougeKhmer Rouge
, name given to native Cambodian Communists. Khmer Rouge soldiers, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, began a large-scale insurgency against government forces in 1970, quickly gaining control over more than two thirds of the country.
..... Click the link for more information. leaders for war crimes, none were tried by Cambodia or internationally until 2009 (due mainly to the length of time it took the Cambodian government to reach an agreement on trials with the United Nations; a mixed Cambodian-international court was finally sworn in 2006). In Indonesia the national courts have tried a number of Indonesian officials and officers for war crimes in East Timor during 1999, but the proceedings ended mainly in acquittals or overturned convictions. In 1998 the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a treaty authorizing a permanent international court for war crimes. The treaty was signed by more than 130 nations (including the United States), and formally came into effect in July, 2002, after 60 nations had ratified the treaty. The judges of the court, called the International Criminal CourtInternational Criminal Court
(ICC), first permanent world court created specifically to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity, est. 2002; located at the Hague, Netherlands.
..... Click the link for more information. (ICC) and located at The Hague, were formally sworn in in 2003. The court is empowered to prosecute war crimes, genocide, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity.
See S. Glueck, War Criminals (1944); R. H. Jackson, The Case against the Nazi War Criminals (1946); J. J. Heydecker and J. Leeb, The Nuremberg Trial (tr. 1962); T. Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam (1970); N. E. Tutorow and K. Winnovich, ed., War Crimes, War Criminals, and War Crime Trials (1986); A. Neier, War Crimes (1998); B. N. Schiff, Building the International Criminal Court (2009).