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Hofstra Law and Policy Symposium

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What is the lesson we are learning about war crimes in the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda? We begin with this question: what is a war crime and how have the definitional difficulties come to the fore in conjunction with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia? One broad category of war crimes, called "crimes against peace," as established by the Nuremberg Charter,' is simply commencing an aggressive war in violation of treaties. A second category is "crimes against humanity." But in the definition of a crime against humanity there is a qualifying phase - "before or during the war" - which suggests that there must be a war or "an armed conflict" somewhere before the concept of crimes against humanity can be applied. The third category is "war crime." That is to say, ill treatment of prisoners, civilian population, and unnecessary destruction, all of which require a war.