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War Crimes

  1. Larry May

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee053

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

May, L. 2013. War Crimes. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


War crimes are a species of international crimes (see International Criminal Justice) committed during armed conflict. The other major international crimes are crimes against humanity (see Crimes Against Humanity), genocide (see Genocide), and the crime of aggression (Statute of the International Criminal Court: Art. 5). While the term “war crime” is sometimes popularly used to cover all international crimes committed during war (see War), it is properly restricted in international law to violations of the principle requiring that soldiers act humanely. Soldiers are supposed to act with mercy (see Mercy) and compassion, even as these same soldiers are allowed to kill enemy soldiers. The apparent paradox of this remark illustrates the conceptual problems of normatively grounding the idea of war crimes, and of international prosecutions for such crimes.


  • history of philosophy;
  • law;
  • legal and political;
  • practical (applied) ethics