Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law
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Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law

Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello and Jus post Bellum

Edited by Nigel White and Christian Henderson

This innovative Research Handbook brings together leading international law scholars from around the world to discuss and highlight the contemporary debate regarding issues of conflict prevention and the legality of resorting to the use of armed force through to those arising during an armed conflict and in the phase between conflict and peace.
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Chapter 14: War crimes

Robert Cryer


War crimes are a criminalized sub-set of violations of the law of armed conflict. As such, given their link to armed conflict, the relationship of the law of war crimes to peace and security hardly needs explanation. The law of war crimes is an old area of international criminal law. Trials for what would now be called war crimes have been a frequent occurrence throughout history. That said, the majority of the developments in the law of war crimes occurred in the twentieth century. This chapter will begin with a discussion of the concept of war crimes and its development. It will then discuss the relationship that the modern law of war crimes has with the law of armed conflict. It will then move on to discuss the substantive norms that make up war crimes law, and the implementation of the rules in this area of law. Depending on how far back it is considered worthwhile looking, prosecutions for war crimes, or at least their analogues, can be traced back a long way in history. Rather like the history of international humanitarian law, which can be traced back to practically all of the major world civilizations in some form or another, the law of war crimes is both old and trans-civilizational. Even if it is the case that the well-known von Hagenbach trial in 1474 was not really a precedent for modern war crimes trials, at the very latest in the mid to late nineteenth century, the right of states to prosecute violations of the law of armed conflict was generally accepted.

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