What is a war crime?

Françoise Hampson

  • The Destruction of Yugoslavia by Branka Magas
    Verso, 372 pp, £39.95, March 1993, ISBN 0 86091 376 7
  • The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials by Telford Taylor
    Bloomsbury, 703 pp, £25.00, April 1993, ISBN 0 7475 1501 8

Televised images of horror in the former Yugoslavia have been confronting us for nearly two years now, and the term ‘atrocity’ has been widely used. Are the ‘atrocities’ no more than the inevitable face of war or are they something over and above that? Once fighting starts, are there limits to what is acceptable or do our reactions stem from some inadequately examined and perhaps inappropriate sense of innocence and guilt? As the newly sworn-in members of the UN War Crimes Tribunal meet to discuss the rules of procedure, we must be sure we know what such a tribunal can and cannot do and why it has been created.

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