A war crime is a punishable offense, under international law, for violations of the law of war by any person or persons, military or civilian. Every violation of the law of war is a war crime.
War crimes include violations of established protections of the laws of war. but also include failures to adhere to norms of procedure and rules of battle, such as attacking those displaying a flag of truce, or using that same flag as a ruse of war to mount an attack.
It comprises such acts as mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians. War crimes are sometimes part of instances of mass murder and genocide though these crimes are more broadly covered under the human rights law described as crimes against humanity.
War crimes are significant in human rights law because it is an area where international tribunals such as the Nuremberg Trials have been convened. Recent examples are the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
On July 1, 2002 the International Criminal Court based in The Hague came into being for the prosecution of war crimes committed after that date. However, several nations, most notably the United States, China, and Israel, have criticized the court, refused to participate in it or recognize the court's jurisdiction over their citizens.
To date, the only former heads of state that have been charged with war crimes are Karl Dönitz of Germany, ex prime minister Hideki Tojo of Japan, and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Recently there have also appeared testimonies of "peace crimes" committed against the Nazi children in the peace time after the war, after 1945, as part of the victors' celebration. These peace crimes reflect the complexity of justice when the winners' mentality dominates in international criminal tribunals.
See also: Crime against peace, Crime against humanity, laws of war, War Crimes Law (Belgium), List of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity
- Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court http://www.un.org/law/icc/