Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Every Professional Journalist Needs to Know About War Crimes

As I perused the web this morning I was delighted to come across a resource on the laws of war at the Society of Professional Journalists' website. In describing some of the historical antecedents of the existing laws of war, they make an important and correct observation:

"There is no one 'Geneva Convention.' Like any other body of law, the laws of war have been assembled piecemeal, and are, in fact, still under construction."
Important point, since so many commentators refer to "the Geneva Convention," but there are actually four; and since the laws of war are not limited to the Geneva rules but include the Hague Conventions and various other treaties and rules from customary law.

An important source of international humanitarian law, however, seems to have been overlooked by the SPJ: the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. The website reads:
"It is impossible to produce a complete and up-to-date list of war crimes. Even today, weapon systems such as land mines are being debated at the highest levels of international policy."
That's not true, and nor does one sentence follow from the other. In fact, a complete and (at that time up-to-date) list of war crimes appears in Article 8 of the Rome Statute, the multilateral treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. While there are other lists, the Rome Statute is authoritative in the sense of being the product of a multilateral discussion involving most UN member states.

Whether additional things should be added to that list and what else might qualify under an item on the list, are different questions and, perhaps, await the first ICC Review Conference next year.

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