IRRC No. 322

Individual criminal responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law committed in non-international armed conflicts

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Two prominent events that occurred midway through this century had a great impact on international criminal law. The first milestone in this area was the trials of the major war criminals held in Nuremberg and Tokyo in the wake of the Second World War. They highlighted the principle of individual criminal responsibility for certain serious violations of the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict; the terms “crimes against the peace”, “war crimes”, and “crimes against humanity” found formal recognition. The second event, following closely on the first, was the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the protection of war victims. These instruments established a specific framework for the prevention and punishment of the most serious violations of the provisions they contain; the technical term “grave breach” was coined.

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