War itself can be considered an atrocity, but even in the extreme violence of war, people make distinctions between acts that are necessary to achieve a nation's war aims and those that are gratuitously cruel. Targeting civilians, killing the wounded, rape, torture, and genocide are among the acts that both offend our conscience and violate international law.

War atrocities involve three overlapping types of crime: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of human rights. War crimes, in international law, occur only during armed combat between nations and involve acts committed against combatants and noncombatants of the opposing side. An example of a war crime is the execution of wounded soldiers. Crimes against humanity is a broader concept in which the victims can be nationals or ...

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