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What Is a War Crime?

What Is a War Crime?

Germany, France and other countries have accused Russia of war crimes in the town of Bucha just outside Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

  • The mayor of Bucha said on Saturday that 300 residents had been killed by Russian troops during a month-long occupation.
  • Victims were seen by Reuters in a mass grave and lying in the streets.
  • The International Criminal Court in The Hague defines war crimes as “grave breaches” of the post-World War Two Geneva Conventions, agreements which lay out the international humanitarian laws to be followed in war time.
  • Breaches include deliberately targeting civilians and attacking legitimate military targets where civilian casualties would be “excessive”.
  • The meaning of war crimes was clarified in 1949 Geneva Conventions.
  • Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as “wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.
  • The ICC will issue an arrest warrant if prosecutors can show “reasonable grounds to believe” war crimes were committed.
  • To obtain a conviction, the prosecutor would have to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • For most charges, that requires proving intent.
  • One way to do this would be for a prosecutor to show there were no military targets in the area of an attack and that it was not an accident.

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