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A war crime refers to any form of offense or transgression, such as mass killing of people, discrimination and maltreatment of prisoners, rape of women and girls, and looting or unlawful destruction of public and private properties that are committed among nations during periods of war. War crimes can also be committed during national conflicts and civil wars within a country. According to Haerens, committing war crimes involves violating and breaching two major principles, namely the principle of necessity, which prohibits the killing of an enemy, and the principle of humanity, which prohibits causing unnecessary harm, suffering, and agony to innocent persons (37). Based on these two principles, this research paper aims at finding whether or not mass murder of civilians and prisoners of war, rape, and looting can be considered as war crimes. Thus, the thesis statement of the research paper is: can the acts of mass murder of civilians and prisoners of war, rape, and looting be considered war crimes? In order to answer this question, the research paper reviews various incidences of mass killing of civilians and prisoners of war, rape, and looting during past wars and their impacts on the victims. This is in order to establish whether or not these acts lead to violation of human rights, and, thus, whether they can be considered war crimes. Human rights refer to basic rights and freedoms that are fundamental for the well-being of an individual. Human rights are universal and apply equally to all people. Laws of humanity are often disregarded during wars, thus leading to violation of human rights (Beitz 129).


Millions of innocent civilians are usually killed during wars because of their gender, race, nationality, political viewpoints, and religious ideologies. Mass killing of civilians, which includes genocide, killing of both the enemies and non-combatants by military soldiers, and ethnic cleansing, has been witnessed in various countries across the world.

a)Genocide in Rwanda

The genocide which was committed in Rwanda in 1994 (Cruden 61) left thousands of people dead and million other homeless. The number of people who died in the genocide is estimated to range between 500,000 and 100,000. This represented more than 20 percent of the population. Many Rwandeses also flew to neighboring countries where they lived as refugees. It also led to detention of nearly 12,000 Tutsis (Cruden 68). The genocide was initiated by 6,000 warriors from Tutsi ethnic group.

b)Mass Killing of Jews by German Soldiers/Jewish Holocaust

Mass killing of innocent civilians also occurred during World War II when soldiers from Germany killed millions of Jewish people. The Nazi soldiers aimed at wiping out Jewish people from Europe (Geissler, Guillemin 14). Thousands of people are also taken as hostages during wars. Sick prisoners have been denied access to healthcare services, thus leading to their death. Prisoners have also been wounded, injured, and tortured to death after their arrest. According to Doyle, thousands of prisoners of war in the United States were subjected to execution through electrification and lethal injection after World War II (105).

c)Mass Killing of Civilians in Kosovo

Mass killing of people was also witnessed during the civil war in Kosovo (Ignatieff 211, Bieber, Daskalovski 146) and former Yugoslavia (Oliver 168). It is estimated that approximately 2200 civilians died while 850,000 people were displaced during the Kosovo War which started in early 1998 and ended in mid 1999. More than 3000 soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and 1,000 soldiers from NATO also died during the war. Both NATO and KLA soldiers were accused of deliberately killing civilians through direct shootings and bombings instead of attacking the enemy.

Beitz argues that justice can only be served to the survivors and victims of wars by killing the prisoners of wars (173). However, this assumption may not be correct because one wrong cannot be solved by another wrong. Thus, merciless killing of people and prisoners of war may not provide a suitable remedy to justice, but would rather increase social tensions, aggressions, and hostilities among conflicting societies. The various methods that have been used to achieve mass killing of civilians and murder of war prisoners, such as starvation, physical beatings, air strikes, bombing, psychological torturing, and confinement in gas chambers are inhumane and usually result in unnecessary suffering of the victims. In my opinion, military soldiers should not kill innocent civilians, but instead provide them with adequate security during wars. Moreover, prisoners of war should not be put to death, because they are also human beings and equally have the right to life, which ought to be respected and obeyed. Seibert-Fohr also argues that prisoners of war should not be killed or wounded in any way, especially after surrendering to the police (50). For my part, mass killing of civilians and war prisoners is a war crime because it denies people their right to life.


Rape refers to the act of having a forceful sexual intercourse with an individual. Temkin defines rape as a form of sexual assault that is usually committed against the will and without the consent of an individual (149). War rape refers to sexual assaults committed during wars. Cases of rape have been reported during wars in most countries. Rape has also been used as a weapon of war in most countries.

a)War Rapes during World War II in Japan

War rapes were reported in Japan during World War II when women were forced to sexual slavery (Tanaka 38). Hundreds of soldiers allegedly raped women during the Bale of Okinawa towards the end of the Pacific War. According to Roth, Japanese soldiers allegedly raped nearly forty thousand women from Okinawa (285).

b) Rape during the Partition of India.

Khan reports that brutality and violence against women became extreme high during the Partition of India violence which occurred in March 1947 (109). The estimated number of women who raped ranges between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand. Most the women raped were aged between twelve and thirty five years. According to Talbot and Singh, the rapists who mainly comprised of Hindu and Sikh men targeted mainly the Muslim women (173). As a counterattack measure, Muslim males also targeted Hindu and Sikh women. Indian women from both ordinary and royal families were captured, stripped naked and forced to parade in open market places before raped. This led to excruciating and intolerable humiliation of Indian women. As a consequence, thousands of Indian women committed suicide to evade being raped. Cases of war rapes were also reported in Bangladesh when soldiers from the Pakistan Army captured and raped an unknown number of women from Bangladesh during the Bangladesh Liberation War between 1969 and 1972. Verma estimates that more than fifty thousand women were raped by Pakistan soldiers during the Bangladesh Liberation War (114).

c)War Rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo

War rape has been extensively used a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both members of the rebel groups and soldiers of the Congolese Army have systematically used rape as a weapon against their enemies as well as against innocent civilians. According to Van (2012), one out of three women has been raped in the North Kivu province. The World Health Organization also reported that thirty percent of women raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been infected with HID/AIDS. The intensity of cases of rape in the DRC especially in the war-on areas such as North Kivu have been referred to as the rape capital of the world (Van 2012). The increase in war rapes in the DRC has been fueled by increased political and social instability in the country. In late 2004, Amnesty International reported that more than 40,000 cases of rape have reported the Democratic Republic of Congo over a period of six years. The organization further estimates that there are more than four hundred thousand victims of rape surviving in the DRC. The Guardian, UK, reported on May 12, 2011 that forty-eight women are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a case study published in the American Journal of Public Health (Kelly, United States Institute of Peace 316). In 2011, the rate of rape among women was twenty-six times higher than a previous estimation by the United Nations in 2009 (Van 2012).

According to the Women's Rights Watch Organization, women and girls are often raped during wars because of their inability to protect themselves (155). Weatherford also agrees that women and girls are more prone to war rapes because of their weak nature and vulnerability (335).

War rape is an abuse of human rights and has a severe impact on the victims, which should not be downplayed. For instance, war rape causes social stigma, undermines the dignity of women in the society, may lead to death of the victims as well as lead to unwanted pregnancies. Rape also traumatizes and devastates the victims. Victims of rape may also experience acute stress disorders, thus leading to increased deterioration of their physical and mental health (Temkin 151). War rape also has severe impacts on the victims, such as physical injury, loss of virginity, infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV/AIDS and gonorrhea, social seclusion and intimidation of the victims by the society, and psychological effects, such as development of posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, and extreme fear. Henry also agrees that survivors of war rape often live in great fear, hatred, and lamentation (324). Prunier asserts that the prevalence and severity of rape during wars in certain countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo makes it the worst cruel act that has ever been witnessed in history (281). Therefore, war rape is a social vice and a violation of human rights. Rape is against the human security theory, which proposes that human rights should be obeyed by ensuring adequate people's safety in order to promote sustainable human growth and development. Thus, military leaders should discourage soldiers from raping civilians, and armies should avoid using rape as a war strategy. The provision of individualistic security that focuses on people's safety, in addition to ensuring national security, should be the sole duty of military soldiers during wars.


Looting refers to haphazard and forceful acquisition of goods or private properties during riots and wars. Looting involves despoliation and ransack of goods from people. Looting has been used during wars as a way of celebrating victory or to supplement the income of war soldiers (Haerens 41).

a)Looting during Colonial Era

Looting dates back to periods of slavery when colonists robbed defeated populations of their belongings before enslaving them. Incidences of looting include despoiling and pillaging of goods and private properties during wars, for instance, it is allegedly reported that African artifacts were looted by colonists during the colonial era. Similar, British colonists are also accused of looting precious metals and jewelry worth thirty-five million pounds from Indians during the colonial era.

b)Looting by the Soviet Red Army

The Soviet Red Army was also accused of looting property as well as terrorizing people in Manchuria, China, and in Poland in 1923 (Jones 172; Stone 396). In 1927, Soviet Red Army soldiers reportedly looted churches during an anti-religious campaign. According to XXX, Soviet Army soldiers also looted Demmin Town in Germany for three consecutive days in May 1945. Most building in the town were also set on fire. On the third day, nearly 80 percent of Demmin had been looted by the soldiers. Stone also asserts that the Soviet soldiers brushed walls of houses with gasoline before setting them on fire and guarding them as they burnt to prevent people from extinguishing the fire (402). One of the most important social support assets that were looted during the raid was national cereal silo. The looters mainly targeted homes, industries, stores and shops. The soldiers also burned down farms. The looting led to mass suicide among the residents. The Soviet soldiers also repeatedly looted several German trains especially between February 1944 and June 1945. The Army also triggered mass executions and mass rapes in Demmin. The Soviet Red Army is also accused of provoking suicidal deaths of nearly 5,300 people in Demmin in mid 1945 (Stone 427).

c)Looting in Iraq

During the Iraq War in 2003, civilians looted both public and private properties, including a museum (Rothfield 370; Polk, Schuster 153). In my view, looting is a war crime because it leads to destruction and loss of properties. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on September 7, 2010, that it had received nearly 540 artifacts that exhibited ancient history of Iraq which were looted during the Iraq War in 2003. It was further reported that more than six hundred and thirty antiquities were still missing after looters raided major archeological sites in Iraq following the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. Various historical items were also stolen from worship places in Iraq during the war.

Looting is a violation of the right to own property. It also leads to decrease in economic resources and affects the ability of people to create wealth, hence lowering their living standards. Lives may also be lost during looting, especially when explosives such as bombs are used to destroy the properties. Loss of personal properties and destruction of economic resources during looting also increases the prevalence of poverty in the society. Thus, it is against principles of humanity.


Mass killing of people, rape, and looting can be classified as war crimes because they involve violation of human rights and aim at destroying the fundamental foundations of life. War crimes such as mass killing of civilians and prisoners of war, rapes, and lootings are constantly committed in the society even today. Therefore, something must be done in order to save people from the negative impacts of such war crimes. The federal and state governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the United Nations and Women's Rights Watch Organization, international human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch, World Organization Against Torture, and International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), and the judicial and criminal justice systems should work together to ensure that justice is served to the victims of war crimes in a laudable manner. Appropriate policies should be developed and implemented to ensure that long-lasting solutions are there to reduce, control, and prevent the negative impacts of war crimes in the society. These forms of war crimes are highly inhumane and should be strongly condemned, discouraged, and prevented from happening in the society.

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