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International War Crimes Tribunals

The “law of war” includes war-related treaties and customary rules of law followed by nations out of a sense of legal obligation. This law, also called “international humanitarian law,” governs the status, rights, and duties of enemy nations in the context of war. Because 191 nations have become member of the United Nations, the United Nations is an important enforcement body for international humanitarian law.In cases where serious violations of the law of war are alleged, the United States Security Council, pursuant to broad powers granted in Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, may convene a special war crimes tribunal to prosecute violators, to render justice to the victims, and to deter future crimes.A war crimes tribunal may be granted the authority to prosecute the following types of crimes.

“Grave breaches” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

Grave breaches of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions include, among other things:

  • wilful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  • wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health
  • compelling a prisoner of war to serve in the forces of the hostile power
  • wilfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of a fair and regular trial
  • unlawfully deporting or transferring or unlawfully confining a civilian
  • compelling a civilian to serve in the forces of a hostile power
  • wilfully depriving a civilian of the rights of a fair and regular trial

Violations of the Laws and Customs of War

The laws and customs of war include customary international law that stems from the actual practice of nations. It develops gradually over time, and nations follow it out of a sense of legal obligation.

Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

Genocide may be defined as the systematic killing of a particular racial or ethnic group. Crimes against humanity include extermination, murder, or persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council created by resolution the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal, which is located in the Hague, has filed indictments against key figures in the Former Yugoslavia, including Slobodan Milosevic. As of 2004, the trials against these parties are ongoing.

The cases are being tried before 16 permanent judges and up to nine ad litem judges. The judges were elected by the United Nations General Assembly.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

An International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established in 1994. This Tribunal obtained the first-ever international judgments for the crime of genocide. As of 2004, this Tribunal is still active.

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