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The International Writers Magazine: Comment

War Crimes, Genocide, and Terrorism
Defining Terror
• Antonio Graceffo
In the aftermath of the November, 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris, the internet was ablaze with arguments and opinions, many of which were understandably emotionally charged. Many of the posts and arguments were using the words war crimes, genocide, and terrorism.

ISIS war crime

Most people would agree that murder, whether defined as war Crimes, Genocide, and Terrorism, is a terrible thing. These words are not interchangeable, however, and to bring suit before the International Criminal Court or to bring a case to a world body, such as the United Nations, the specific crime would have to be named, defined, and proved. An atrocity can be committed which is seen as a pure act of evil and yet would not qualify as genocide, but a conviction might have been possible if the charge were war crimes or terrorism.

The purpose of this paper is to give an explanation for and some examples of the three terms; war crimes, genocide, and Terrorism.

War Crimes

Several definitions of war crimes can be found. According to The International Criminal Court: “War crimes” include grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict and in conflicts "not of an international character" listed in the Rome Statute, when they are committed as part of a plan or policy or on a large scale” ( 2015).

“Genocide, crimes against humanity, mistreatment of civilians or combatants during war can all fall under the category of war crimes. Genocide is the most severe of these crimes” (Kafala 2009). War crimes include: Murder, Extermination, Enslavement, Deportation, Imprisonment, Torture, Rape, Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds (Kafala 2009). “War crimes may be committed by a country's regular armed forces, such as its army, navy, or air force, or by irregular armed forces, such as guerrillas and insurgents.” (

The Legal Information Institute of Cornell University cites 18 U.S. Code § 2441 - War crimes, “which constitutes a grave breach of common Article 3…committed in the context of and in association with an armed conflict not of an international character…contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians” (LII / Legal Information Institute 2015).

“serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” (ICC cited in 2015). “…subjecting a protected person to medical experiments” ( 2015).

“The conduct breaches important values.. example, abusing dead bodies;[8] subjecting persons to humiliating treatment;[9] making persons undertake work that directly helps the military operations of the enemy;[10] violation of the right to fair trial;[11] and recruiting children under 15 years of age into the armed forces.” ( 2015).

While the exact wording may differ, the commonalities between the various definitions of war crimes is that they must be committed during a war, generally by uniformed military personnel. War crimes are often assessed when civilians are specifically attacked or targeted by an army at war. Genocide is included in war crimes, and is considered the most extreme war crime. Genocide will be further defined in the next section.

Examples of war crimes would be the Nazis in World War II intentionally targeting Jewish civilians (Kafala 2009).


Genocide is considered one of the most severe crimes against humanity. It means “the deliberate attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” ( 2015).

According to the International Criminal Court (2015) Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group…Individuals are chosen as victims purely, simply and exclusively because they are members of the target group, and not because of anything an individual has done.”

Twentieth Century examples of genocide: Ottoman Turks slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians 1915-1923, Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews, Roma, and others 1930s and 40s, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed in Rwanda 1994, and Former Yugoslavia 1992-1995. ( 2015b)


Experts will agree that there is no unified definition of terrorism (Schaack 2009). Schaack (2009) describes terrorism as ‘The perpetration of violence by enumerated or unenumerated means; The targeting of innocent civilians or elements of the civilian infrastructure; Conduct is undertaken: With the intent to cause violence or with wanton disregard for the act’s consequences; For the purpose of causing fear or terror, coercing a government, or intimidating an enemy; or To achieve some political, military, ideological, or religious goal” (Schaack 2009).

Cohen (2012) defines terrorism as: “acts offenses involving use of firearms, weapons, explosives, and dangerous substances when used as a means to perpetrate indiscriminate violence involving death or serious bodily injury to persons or groups of persons or populations or serious damage to property” (Cohen 2012).

According to International Crimes Database (n.d.) “In its Resolution 1566 (2004), the Security Council drew on the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, and on this basis, referred to terrorism as: criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.” ( n.d.)

“In order to intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.” ( n.d.)

“Perhaps the most debated definition of terrorism, as an international crime, has been brought forward in the landmark decision of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). In paragraph 85 of that decision, the Appeals Chamber considers that: the international crime of terrorism … requires the following three key elements: (i) the perpetration of a criminal act (such as murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson, and so on), or threatening such an act; (ii) the intent to spread fear among the population (which would generally entail the creation of public danger) or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it; (iii) when the act involves a transnational element.” ( n.d.)

Examples of terrorism

The September, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City which killed 2993, the 2001 “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight ( n.d.) the 2009 Boko Haram attack in Maiduguri, Borno, Nigeria which killed 780, the 2004 attaack in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russia resulting in 372 killed ( 2015) The 2015 Paris attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, which killed twelve (WSJ 2015), The November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris which left more than 129 people dead (Almasy, Meilhan and Bittermann 2015).

Taking the Paris bombings or the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, one can apply the definition of terrorism. Both attack were violent in nature, directly targeted at civilians or civilian infrastructure, and were undertaken for the intent of spreading fear among the population and to indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it.


Horrible things can and do happen in this world, but that doesn’t make them a war crime, neither does it make them genocide, or terrorism. A million people could be killed in a single day, and yet it may not qualify as a war crime if the persons killed were combatants in a declared war, killed in a way that does not violate the rules of war. A million civilians could be killed in a single day, and yet it couldn’t be called genocide unless the intent was to exterminate an entire race from the planet. A million civilians could be killed in a single day, but the crime wouldn’t necessarily qualify as terrorism if the perpetrators were uniformed soldiers, acting on direct orders from the country’s government, within its own borders. This is not to detract from the tragedy of a million people being killed in a single day, it just means that in order to bring suit, or to bring the case before a world body, the crime needs to be identified correctly.

Almasy, Steve, Pierre Meilhan, and Jim Bittermann. 'Paris Massacre: At Least 128 Die In Attacks - CNN.Com'. CNN. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'BBC - Ethics - War: War Crimes'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Cohen, Aviv. 'PROSECUTING TERRORISTS AT THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: REEVALUATING AN UNUSED LEGAL TOOL TO COMBAT TERRORISM'. Michigan State International Law Review Vol. 20:2 (2012): 223. Print.,. 'ICC - What Are War Crimes?'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'ICC - What Is Genocide?'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'Customary IHL - Rule 156. Definition Of War Crimes'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'ICD - Terrorism - Asser Institute'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'Worst Terrorist Strikes--Worldwide'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Kafala, Tarik. 'BBC NEWS | Europe | What Is A War Crime?'. N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
LII / Legal Information Institute,. '18 U.S. Code § 2441 - War Crimes'. N.p., 1949. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Schaack, Beth. 'Intlawgrrls: Toward A Definition Of Terrorism'. N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.,. 'War Crimes'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Copy and paste bibliography citation Copy and paste in-text citation
WSJ,. 'Timeline Of Terror Attacks In Past 20 Years'. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling, in Chinese, with expected graduation in June of 2016. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, in January, 2016.

The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at
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