Debates, Resources

The Concept of War Crimes; Fact or Fiction? By Dara OLANIYAN

The Concept of War Crimes; Fact or Fiction?

Delivered at the 2018 Sultan Bello Hall Literary and Debating Society’s “Armory of Words”

My opponents can come here today, and deliver their speeches, because they are well-fed, but the Biafran children didn’t have that luxury, when thousands of them starved due to the strict food blockade implemented by the Nigerian Federal Government. My opponents can come here today and gesticulate with their two hands completely, but the people of Sierra Leone didn’t have that luxury, as men, women and children were amputated for fun, in the 1991-2002 Sierra Leone civil war.

According to the American Psychological Association, survivors of the Holocaust are still suffering from psychological disorders, 73 years after the holocaust, yet my opponents come here with the luxury of their sane minds to argue that there is no such thing as a war crime. By doing that they have committed the crime of unashamed ignorance, and they will pay by losing this debate.

According to International Criminal Law by Antonio Cassese, published by the Oxford University Press, a war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war and that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. This includes acts such as targeting civilians or humanitarian workers, unlawful excessive destruction of property, rape or sexual slavery, use of poisonous weapons and so on. 

The laws of war which prohibit war crimes are divided into two, namely jus ad bellum concerning acceptable justifications to go into war, and the jus in bello concerning acceptable conduct in the art of war. This shows that the aim of the law is to prevent conflict as much as possible. However, since we all know that conflict is unavoidable, the law ensures that even when we fight, we don’t fight like animals, by taking steps to preserve our humanity. The law against war crimes ensures that we do only what is necessary to win a war, and nothing more, because wars will come and go, but the human race will remain. To call such a concept fiction is to ridicule the basis of the concept of the preservation of humanity.

In addition, it’s outrightly ridiculous to call the concept of war crimes a fiction, when it has been strictly applied in several instances. Notable instances are former Liberian president Charles G Taylor who was brought to the Hague and convicted for crimes against humanity in April 2012 as reported by Aljazeera on the same day, and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadic who was found guilty of genocide on the 24th of March 2016 by the Belgrade’s war crime courts as reported by the New York Times on the same day. These men are just two of hundreds of people who have been charged and convicted of war crimes. As such ladies and gentlemen, you can understand my confusion when my opponents come and call the concept of war crimes a fiction. Perhaps they should discuss with Radovan Karadic, who has been sentenced to 40 years in jail, and just ask him if those forty years feel fictional.

My opponents may say that several people commit these war crimes and are not being punished. However, that would be a very disappointing argument to put forward. According to the Pew Research Center, 53% of criminals in the United States get away scot-free. The reality is there are several people who have committed armed robbery, murder, rape and so on and are not being punished. Does that make those crimes a fiction as well? Or maybe our entire penal system is also now a fiction? Of Course our legal system has some shortcomings, and the guilty may go scot free sometimes, but we cannot because of that, dismiss systems and concepts that were put in place to protect us.

Furthermore ladies and gentlemen, it will interest you to know that Dictionary.com defines a fiction as something imagined as opposed to something real. I think we can all agree that if an action is said to be imaginary or unreal, then the effects of such an action by necessary consequence also have to be unreal. However, according to an article published in the New York Times on the 6th of July 2003, 97 million civilians were killed by wars in the twentieth century alone, and an estimate of up to 1 billion people have been killed throughout human history due to wars.

According to an article on the Huffpost on the 8th of December 2014, up to 3 million German women were raped by Russian soldiers during World war 2, over 60,000 women were raped during the Bosnian conflict, and 48 women were raped every hour during the Congo war that lasted 5 years. I understand that my opponents are only here today because they have to defend the side they have been given, but in the words of Eugenia Cheng, the wonderful thing about mathematical proof is that it eliminates the use of intuition in an argument. No matter what analogies or punchlines my opponents come here to give today, the numbers have spoken. War crimes are a fact.

Lastly, the Braxton maxim states that necessity is the justification of any law. drawing from this, we can say no law can possibly be created in a vacuum, and for every law, there’s a factual situation over which it presides. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva Convention of 1949, and the Rome Statute of 1998, all arose when the thinkers of the world opened their eyes to the fact that war was not only eating away at our population, but also our humanity, and that there was a need to protect those two things. The very existence of these laws shows that there is a factual problem which they seek to solve, as a law cannot exist on the basis of a fiction.