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What is a war crime?

War crimes are crimes that come under the collective name of 'core international crimes'. they are some of the gravest crimes in international law, examples of them can include; the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. 

War crimes 

Violations of the laws or customs of war, including:

  • atrocities or offences against persons or property, constituting violations of the laws or customs of war
  • murder, ill treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population in occupied territory
  • murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas
  • killing of hostages
  • torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  • breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • plunder of public or private property
  • wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages
  • devastation not justified by military necessity
  • destruction of property that is of particular cultural significance


It is an offence for a public official or person acting in an official capacity to intentionally inflict severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of their official duties, without lawful authority.


Genocide is a crime under international law even if it is not a crime in the country where it takes place, and incitement to commit genocide is also a crime.

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group:

  • 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

Crimes against humanity

Atrocities and offences committed against any civilian population, as part of a widespread attack, including:

  • murder
  • extermination
  • enslavement
  • deportation
  • mass systematic rape and sexual enslavement in a time of war
  • other inhumane acts
  • persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any other crime against humanity

Witnesses and victims of war crimes

If you have been a victim of or witness to core international crimes, the UK police want you to report it to them and can offer support. Your information could be vital to an investigation in the UK or another part of the world.

You can also help by providing information that identifies perpetrators of core international crimes living in this country and the crimes they may have committed.

We will treat all of the information you provide in the strictest of confidence.

Please note: you can contact us in your first language or whichever language you feel most comfortable using. Your report does not have to be in English.

Find out more about how to report war crimes and access support here