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The term war crimes may strike some as redundant and others as oxymoronic: redundant because war itself is criminal; oxymoronic because war submits to no law. Neither position is serious. The idea that morals, if not laws, control the waging of war dates back thousands of years. Following the Greek tradition, Roman law established prohibitions on the conduct of warfare. One finds similar norms expressed in the Hindu code of Manu: “let him not strike with weapons… barbed, poisoned, or the points of which are blazing with fire” (chap. 7, § 90).

There are other important antecedents to the articulation of a coherent notion of war crimes in international law. These include the trial and execution of Peter von Hagenbach in Austria in 1474 for wartime ...

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