Debates, Resources

The Concept of War Crime – Fact or Fiction by Ayeni Otito-Jesu Joshua


Delivered at the Semi-Finals, Hall Category, Jaw War 2018

September 5, 2014 according to Mary and her family were among the tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge at a U.N. peacekeeping base in Sudan when armed men arrived. First, they shot her husband and spilled his intestine. Then they butchered her two sons’ right in her presence. Later, they made her watch as six soldiers took turns and raped her 10-year-old daughter until all she could see was blood and a dead daughter. Then Mary herself was raped, beaten and left to die. Today, my opponents claim acts perpetrated on Mary and several million victims of war crimes is fiction and not a fact. With all good conscience, I disagree!

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Fiction is defined as something invented by imagination. While Fact is something that is known to be true and can be proven with evidence. And this forms the stance for my argument in today’s debate. War crimes according to Amnesty International is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war which gives rise to individual criminal responsibility and examples include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, rape and torture.

First, we must ask how the concept of war crime came about in the first place. According to the convention for the settlement of Pacific interests in 1907, the concept of war crimes emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. During this convention, treaties were adopted and a body of customary international law regarding warfare was codified. Also, Michael Bryant, the author of the book “A World History of War Crimes”, traced the history of war crimes to the need for a minimum standard of humanity even in the midst of brutality and hostility. Thus, it was the appalling agony of the victims of a war that gave birth to the laws of war, which criminalizes certain acts engaged in during armed conflicts. So, saying such is fiction is to question the very basis of our humanity and also to conclude that the 108 countries that signed the treaty were signing the treaty on fiction.

Second, what makes a crime a crime? Ladies and gentlemen, one of the basic principles of criminal law, embedded in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is that no one can be punished for an offence that is not defined in a written law. Hence, the basis of a crime is that it is defined and its punishment prescribed in a written law. The Hague Convention of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva Conference of 1925, the Geneva Convention of 1949 and Article 8 of the Rome Statute all clearly define the concept of war crimes and state the punishment for violating these laws. So since the law does not legislate on fiction, common sense reveals that the existence of various laws on war crimes attests to the fact that war crime is a fact.

Third, my opponents’ strongest point today would be that all is fair in war and that in a war, there are no laws. But, according to Aljazeera news in 2013, over 200 persons have been tried and convicted for various forms of war crimes. Salahuddin Quader, a former Bangladeshi politician was sentenced to death after been convicted of 23 counts of charges including rape, torture and genocide. Perhaps my opponents need to visit his gravesite to confirm that there are laws in war and that breaking these laws have consequences. If that’s difficult for them, they could ask Charles Taylor, former Liberian president currently serving a jail term for 11 counts of war crimes according to the guardian in October 2013 if his jail term feels like imagination to him. Ladies and gentlemen, the fact that there are war criminals who have been punished, imprisoned and executed validate the factuality of our stance.

Should they cite instances of war criminals who have gone scot-free without being punished, they would only have shot themselves in the leg. How can war criminals exist if war crime like they say is fiction? That a crime is not punished doesn’t mean it is no longer a crime. After all, the fact there are squatters who haven’t been caught in Bello doesn’t mean squatting in Bello is no longer a crime.

Finally, having established that war crimes are a fact because there are laws on war, there are victims of war crimes and there are war criminals. If the Bello marshals still claim that the acts of raping Mary’s daughter, spilling the intestine of her husband are all fiction,  my prayer for them will be, May they never be visited by crimes of war!