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Crimes of War - Educator's Guide: Glossary of Terms

Ad Hoc Tribunals: The International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) were established by the Security Council to punish violations of international law during the Yugoslavia conflict and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.  A similar tribunal for prosecution of Khmer Rouge era crimes in Cambodia began in 2007.

Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions: Articles that were added to the original text of this important convention that is the basis for international humanitarian law.

Apartheid: An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa that involves political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites.   

Ariel area bombing or carpet bombing: A method of utilizing conventional shells from the air to bombard a large area of land.  Because bombs are dropped from planes, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between civilian and military targets.

Biological weapon: Any pathogen (germ, bacteria or virus) used during war to kill or incapacitate an enemy.

Cape Town Principles: As part of the effort to deal with the growing problem of children serving in armed forces, UNICEF convoked a symposium in April 1997 called the "Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa." The Cape Town Principles emerged from this symposium.

Casualties: Any deaths, injuries, or damage to infrastructure suffered during war.

Chemical weapons: A chemical substance with toxic properties used during armed conflict to kill, injure, or incapacitate an enemy.

Child Soldier Prevention Act: A bill brought to the United States Congress in 2006 to end the use of child soldiers in hostilities around the world.  As of July 2007, this act had not become law.

Civilian immunity: The protection from violence and persecution granted to civilians because of their status as "civilian." See principle of distinction.

Civilians: A group of people designated as non-combatants, and therefore afforded different protection under international humanitarian law.

Cluster bombs: A shell that is dropped from an airplane and breaks into bomblets upon impact with the ground or a target.  Due to technical inadequacy, a high percentage of those bomblets don't explode upon impact and remain untriggered until touched by a foot, car or agricultural tool.

Collateral damage: Damage to civilian infrastructure or loss of civilian life that is deemed necessary (and therefore legal) to succeed in war.

Combatants: A category of persons during wartime who are recognizable as members of an armed party to conflict.  Separate rules apply to combatants and civilians.

Concentration camps: Areas where civilians are taken and held against their will by an opposing armed party to a conflict.  In addition to depriving civilians of their freedom, concentration camps often involve abuses like rape, torture, and genocide.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A U.N. treaty to prevent torture. The convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured. UNCAT came into force in 1987.

Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention): A U.N. treaty that defines and outlaws genocide. Currently 137 countries have ratified the convention.  All participating countries are required to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and peacetime. The convention entered into force in 1951.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): A United Nations convention outlining the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. It entered into force in 1990. Most member states have ratified the CRC, although the U.S. is an exception.

Crimes of war: Acts which are illegal and punishable under international humanitarian law.

Deportation: The pressured or forced evacuation of civilians from their home or home country to a foreign state.

"Disappearances": A euphemism for politically motivated murders.  Since those arranging for the disappearances are government officials, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. 

Economic sanctions: The imposition of international economic boycotts and embargoes. The term can also be used in domestic conflicts to refer to labor strikes and economic boycotts, shutdowns, and intervention. Economic sanctions can also include tariffs, trade barriers, import duties, import or export quotas, and other monetarily damaging penalties.

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs): Explicit guidelines that allows officials to use highly coercive methods against so-called "high value detainees."  The EITs include "waterboarding," meant to simulate drowning, prolonged stress and duress positions, liquid diets, sleep and light deprivation, noise and light bombardment, extreme isolation and other measures.

Ethnic cleansing: The attempt by one party to eradicate in part or in full a community of ethnically similar people. 

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia: A UN-sponsored international tribunal to prosecute former members of the Khmer Rouge for war crimes committed during the Cambodian genocide, 1975-1979.

Geneva Conventions: The Geneva Conventions consist of four treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland, that set the standards for international law for humanitarian concerns. They chiefly concern the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war. The adoption of the first Convention followed the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863. As of August 2006, the conventions had been ratified by 194 countries.

Genocidaires: Persons who are responsible for planning or committing acts of genocide (French term).

Hors de combat: A French term used in international law that translates as, "out of the fight." It refers to soldiers who are incapable of performing their military function.

Humanitarian aid: Food, water, and necessary supplies that are brought to war-torn areas and countries by third parties, such as neutral countries or relief organizations which specialize in helping civilians during conflict. 

Humanitarian intervention: A term used to describe when a state or group of states employs military force within another country"s territory to protect civilians from atrocities, such as civil war, starvation or genocide.

Indictment: In the common law legal system, an indictment is a formal charge of having committed a serious criminal offense. In those jurisdictions which retain the concept of a felony, the serious crime offence would be a felony. Those jurisdictions that have abolished the concept of a felony often substitute the concept of an indictable offence.

International community: A political term used in international humanitarian law to describe countries that are members of the United Nations or that are states parties to a treaty or convention.

International customary law: Although not signed into law, customary international law includes those practices which many states adhere to, under a sense of obligation, and few states reject. 

Internal conflict: A conflict between two factions within one state.  Generally this categorization of a conflict delays international intervention and its treatment more nebulous under international humanitarian law.  

International Court of Justice: The principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Located in The Hague, the Netherlands, it was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR): A U.N. treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The covenant defines economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to social security and to participate in the cultural life of one’s community. It was created in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): A U.N. treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The covenant defines civil and political rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and a fair trial. It was created in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. 

International Criminal Court (ICC): An independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  The ICC is based on a treaty, joined by 104 countries. The ICC is a court of last resort.  The jurisdiction and functioning of the ICC are governed by the Rome Statute.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY): A judiciary body of the United Nations that was formed to investigate and try persons related to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  It is located in The Hague, the Netherlands.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR): An international court established by the U.N. Security Council to  prosecute offenses committed in the Rwandan genocide during April 1994. Acts of genocide and other serious violations of the international law were prosecuted.

International humanitarian law (IHL): The law of war that is outlined in the Geneva Conventions and other documents.  It defines the conduct and responsibilities of nations and individuals engaged in warfare.  IHL seeks to protect civilians from agression.

International Labour Organization (ILO): A United Nations body dedicated to improving labor conditions and living standards throughout the world. Established in 1919 through the Treaty of Versailles, the ILO became the first specialized agency affiliated with the UN in 1946.

International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremburg: The first and most famous of the trials to prosecute political, military and economic leaders of Nazi Germany.  Twenty four of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany were tried at the IMT.  It was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 and resulted in guidelines for defining war crimes (Nuremberg Principles).    

International Treaty to Ban Landmines: An international agreement that bans antipersonnel landmines. The official title is "Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer or Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction" and the treaty is also known as the Landmine Treaty or the Ottawa Convention.

Jus ad bellum: (Latin for "justice to war") Law concering allowable justifications before engaging in war.

Jus in bello: Law concerning acceptable practices while engaged in war, like the Geneva Conventions.

Landmines: An explosive device that is designed to be placed onto or into the ground, and is triggered by the weight of a vehicle, person or animal.  Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited by international law because they are nearly impossible to remove and have proven to be detrimental to civilian populations.

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA): Founded in 1989, the LRA seeks to overthrow the Ugandan government and replace it with a regime that will implement the group’s interpretation of Christianity.  The LRA is known for kidnapping and killing local Ugandan civilians and capturing children and forcing them to become soldiers.

Maoism: A subset of Communist political ideology.  Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Party in China from 1949-1976, based his teachings on Marx and Lenin.

Military objective: The object of an armed attack during wartime. 

Monitoring bodies: (Also: treaty monitoring bodies) The committees that are responsible for the implementation of core human rights treaties. The legal basis for the establishment of these treaty monitoring organs can be found in the treaties themselves. Examples of such committees are the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): An alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on 4 April 1949. In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. NATO is playing an increasingly important role in crisis management and peacekeeping.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): An international treaty that limits the spread of nuclear weapons. There are currently 188 states parties to the treaty.

Nuclear weapon: Any arm that derives its power from nuclear reactions. Nuclear weapons are significantly more powerful than conventional explosives. A single bomb is capable of destroying an entire city and causing massive environmental damage.

Nuremberg Principles: A set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by necessity during the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi party members following World War II.

Operation Turquoise: On 22 June 1994, the Security Council authorized the deployment of a temporary multinational force to Rwanda to contribute to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk. "Operation Turquoise"—comprising more than 3,000 troops from France and seven African nations—was in place until the end of August, during which time it performed reconnaissance tasks, ensured the security of a "safe humanitarian zone", assisted displaced persons and extricated persons at risk.

Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict: A protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000. The protocol requires governments to ensure that children under 18 years are not recruited compulsorily into their armed forces. It also requires that governments do everything possible to ensure that members of their armed forces who are under 18 years of age do not take part in hostilities.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): The monitoring body of the Chemical Weapons Treaty whose mission it is to implement the provisions of the treaty.

Pillage: The siphoning off of food intended for civilians.  It is considered a war crime in international conflict and a prohibited act in an internal conflict.

Principle of distinction: The legal obligation of combatants and military leaders to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Prisoner of war (POW): A person taken by or surrendering to enemy forces in wartime.

Proportionality: The principles involved in determining whether collateral damage was proportional in relation to the military advantage gained.

Rendition: To "hand over" people or property from one legal jurisdiction (such as a state) to another.  The term "extraordinary rendition" has been used in recent years to describe the transfer of individuals by governments for purposes other than standing trial or providing evidence within the justice system.

Repercussions: Any reciprocal action or effect to an original action. During wartime, this term is usually used in the negative sense. 

Responsibility to protect: A recently developed concept in international relations that justifies humanitarian intervention on ethical and legal grounds.

Rome Statute: Adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002, the statute established an independent permanent International Criminal Court in relation to the United Nations system, with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

Sexual enslavement: A class of sexual violence that is considered a crime against humanity under certain conditions.  The term refers to when a person is denied freedom of movement and forced into prostitution or made the sexual subject of a single person. 

Sexual violence: Violence which is specifically sexual in nature, or directed against persons of one sex because of their sex. 

Siege: Although not an officially recognized term under international humanitarian law, it is generally understood to mean the capture of a city or geographic area by one party to an armed conflict, and the subsequent exertion of pressure upon that area in an attempt to force surrender.

Slavery Convention: An international convention first signed in 1926 that bans slavery and slave trade. Ninety-seven countries have ratified this convention.

Sovereignty: A territory that is completely independent and self-governed, existing as an independent state.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Non-legally binding guidelines for international and domestic law that established good practices in the treatment of prisoners and the management of prisons. The United Nations adopted the guidelines on August 30, 1955.  

Starvation: An illegal tactic of war meant to induce surrender by blocking humanitarian aid and/or normal commerce to a city or state.

Terrorism: Violent acts committed against civilians by non-state parties with the intention to frighten or terrorize the population.

UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment: Created in 1988, these principles apply to the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment.

UN General Assembly: The main decision-making organ of the United Nations. It is made up of all 192 United Nations member states. 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and drafted by a committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.   The Declaration includes 30 articles that define civil and political rights (including the rights to life, liberty, and a fair trial) as well as definitions of economic, social, and cultural rights (including the right to social security and to participation in the cultural life of one's community), all of which are owed by UN member states to those under their jurisdiction. 

Violence against civilians: Wartime acts that harm civilians or civilian infrastructure.




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