Debates, Resources

THE CONCEPT OF WAR CRIME; FACT OR FICTION? By Izuchukwu Temilade Nwagbara

THE CONCEPT OF WAR CRIME; FACT OR FICTION?

[Supporting speaker for Dynamite squad at 2017 Armoury of Words (AOW)]  

Ladies and gentlemen, my opponents’ argument is that war crime is a fiction as it is justified. According to them, acts of war crimes are necessary means to end the war quickly by forcing the enemies to surrender. However, that just shows how human lives have been trivialized, because going by their logic, the fastest way to end an armed robbery with a hostage situation is to kill both the robbers and hostages. Impartial judges, this is not a matter of sentiment; Twelve American soldiers murdered Afghan civilians during the Afghan war and collected their fingers as trophies of war as reported by the Guardian on 9th September, 2010. Distinguished audience, unarmed civilians as trophies of war? Such trivial regard for human life is what is bound to happen if the killing of civilians is seen as a war strategy and not a crime.

Impartial judges, if my opponents say that acts of war are difficult to distinguish from acts of war crimes, Article 8 of the Rome Statute of International Criminal court already solves that; War is between armed soldiers; when it begins to involve civilians, it is a war crime.

In addition, we cannot sufficiently argue this topic without talking about the preceding events of war. According to Prof. I.F Howerth of the University of California, the causes of war are numerous and can be trivial. For instance, a dispute over a pig once threatened a war between the United States and Great Britain at one point and also between France and the Republic of Texas. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, why should inhumane acts such as killing of civilians, rape be committed over a pig. No doubt, soldiers shouldn’t be killed over a pig, but they signed up for war in service to their country, that’s why they are called armed forces. 

My opponent may say that the additional protocols of the Geneva convention defining more war crimes have not been ratified by many countries simply because countries don’t want to be subjected to unrealistic rules restricting war strategies, however, that the scope of a concept has not been expanded in some places doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t exist; for instance, tapping of electricity from your neighbour doesn’t qualify as stealing under the definition of theft in Section 282 of the Nigerian criminal code, yet we cannot claim that the concept of stealing in Nigeria is a fiction.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, the general basis of criminal law is from the latin maxim; nullus poena sine crimen; there is no punishment without a crime. If my opponents say that the concept of war crime is an anomaly because war itself is a crime, let them know that just as the punishment for starting a war is in form of indemnification and payment of tributes just as Germany was made to pay after World war 1, there is a separate punishment for war crimes after due prosecution, as seen in the 50 year jail sentence melted to Charles Taylor, former Liberia President. So impartial judges, how can there be punishment if the crime is fiction?