Since the beginning of recorded history, efforts have been made to limit the behavior during war time. Moreover, there have been many attempts to codify the rules of the military conduct as well.
The Chinese warrior Sun Tzu in the 6th century BCE tried to put some limits in the way the war was conducted.
The notion of war crimes appeared for the first time in Manu's Hindi Code. It was about 200 BCE.
Sir William Wallace (a Scottish national hero) was sued for the murder of civilians during wartime in 1305
Even a book has been published in 1625 by Hugo Grotius that dealt with the humanitarian treatment of civilians: On the Law of War and Peace
The first case of someone being executed for prisoners' mistreatment is the Confederate officer Henry Wirz. It took place at the Andersonville war camp in 1865. Only one of the several people involved in similar offenses has been executed but it was the beginning of the regulations about prisoners' treatment during war time
It is impossible to make an up-dated list of war crimes around the world but since the last 150 years, a real step has been accomplished in restricting the behaviors on warring parties. And it is since the last century that an international body of law has been created to police the nations of the world.
[...] The main person who has been instrumental for the ratification of the 1st Geneva Convention by the United States was the nurse Clara Barton (see in Annexes). The USA signed the 2nd Convention in 1882. The 4 different Conventions of Geneva have an identical Article 3 that extends the general coverage to non-international conflict. According to this Article “those who put down the arms or are out of the conflict because of serious unjuries or sickness, have to be treated in a human way without discrimination based on criteria such as sex, religion, race, social status or wealth.” 2. [...]
[...] 2nd Convention It is officially called the “Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked members of the Armed Forces at This Convention is similar to the 1st one but also covers the land along with sea. Its scope covers the members of armed forces who are wounded, sick or shipwrecked, the hospital ships and medical personnel and the civilians who accompany the armed forces. It has the same idea like that of the core idea of the Red Cross in the sense that if a soldier from armed forces is sick or wounded, he can not take an active part in the hostilities. [...]
[...] These protections are considered fundamental guarantees for all the people.” -Art.5: “People interned or detained during internal conflicts are assured of the same humane treatment as specified by the Geneva Convention.” -Art ; strengthens protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked as well as medical and religious personnel.” Enforced provisions for the care of children and the prohibition to destroy the indispensable objects and material for civilian survival are also included in the 2nd Protocol. -Art13- 14.16 : “Attacks are forbidden on civilians and on objects indispensable to civilian survival such as crops, irrigation systems or drinking water sources, cultural objects and places of worship.” -Art.4: “Children are to be evacuated to safe areas when possible and reunited with their families.” Finally, an Article states that humanitarian relief organizations are to be protected while providing survival with their services. [...]
[...] Consequently, some military lawyers have petitioned against the Bush administration for some prisoners held in the Guantanamo Bay jail without having their status determined by a competent tribunal. However, the Presidents administration states that a terrorist is an “unlawful combatant” so it can not be protected by all the Geneva Conventions. Even more, the American government has qualified the “Geneva Convention of quaint and obsolete”. Since terrorist movements are taking more and more important role on the International scene, the Geneva Convention limit about their status is problematic. Should the International Community vote for the creation of a 5th Convention or a 4th Protocol? [...]
[...] -Art : outlaws indiscriminate attacks on civilian population and destruction of food, water and other material need for survival” -Art 53: dikes and nuclear generating stations can not be attacked, nor can cultural objects and places of worship.” -Art.35: of weapons that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering as well as means of warfare that because widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment are prohibited.” Another point of the 1st protocol of the Geneva Conventions refers to the ethical behavior of the Armed Forces. [...]
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