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War crimes laws apply to the Israel-Palestinian conflict

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    21st Oct, 2023


Internationally accepted rules of armed conflict which have been ratified by all UN member states and supplemented by rulings at international war crimes tribunals is again in light amid tensions between Israel and Palestine.

Let us see how those rules are applicable for Israel and Palestine

What are War Crimes?

  • War crimes are defined as serious violations of humanitarian laws during a conflict.
  • The definition, established by the Rome Statute of the ICC, is derived from the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
  • It is based on the idea that individuals can be held liable for the actions of a state or its military.
  • The taking of hostages, willful killings, torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners of war, and forcing children to fight are some of the more obvious examples.

War Crimes vs. Crimes against Humanity:

  • The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (or Genocide convention) separates war crimes from genocide and crimes against humanity.
  • War crimes are defined as occurring in a domestic conflict or a war between two states.
  • While genocide and crimes against humanity can happen in peacetime or during the unilateral aggression of a military towards a group of unarmed people.

Applicability of Rules of War Crime:

  • A series of treaties governs the treatment of civilians, soldiers and prisoners of war in a system collectively known as the “Law of Armed Conflict” or “International Humanitarian Law”.
  • It applies to government forces and organised armed groups, including Hamas militants.
  • Palestinian perpetrators of atrocities in Israel and all alleged perpetrators of crimes on the occupied Palestinian territories would be brought under the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the only international legal organ able to bring charges.
    • The ICC’s founding Rome Statute gives it legal authority to investigate alleged crimes on the territory of its members or by their nationals, when domestic authorities are “unwilling or unable” to do so.

Role of International Criminal Court (ICC):

  • It is a permanent judicial body created by the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC (its founding and governing document), and began functioning on 1st July 2002 when the Statute came into force.
  • Headquarter: The Hague, Netherlands
  • Members:
    • 123 nations are States Parties to the Rome Statute and recognise the ICC’s authority.
  • The USA, China, Russia, and India are not the members.
  • The forum was established as a court of last resort to prosecute offences that would otherwise go unpunished, and has jurisdiction over four main crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
  • The ICC recognises Palestine as a member state, while Israel rejects the court’s jurisdiction and does not formally engage with it.

Acts under serious violations of war crimes laws by Israel and Palestine:

  • As per the New York-based Human Rights Watch; the possible war crimes can be;
    • The deliberate targeting of civilians,
    • Indiscriminate rocket attacks, and
    • The taking of civilians as hostages by Palestinian armed groups, as well as the Israeli counter-strikes in Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinians.

Geneva Conventions (1949):

  • The Geneva Conventions (1949) and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.
  • They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
    • The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war.
    • The second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.
    • The third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war.
    • The fourth Geneva Convention affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.
  • India is a party to the Geneva Convention.

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