United Nations A/hrc/19/68

Unlawful killing under International Humanitarian Law

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Unlawful killing under International Humanitarian Law

  • Murder, as a war crime

  • In specific circumstances, killing another person during an armed conflict is murder (also known as ‘wilful killing’ when committed in the course of an international armed conflict174). The crime of murder is a recognized offense under customary law and has been codified in the Rome Statute. In internal armed conflict, the elements comprising the war crime of murder are as follows:

    The perpetrator killed one or more persons.

    Such person or persons were either hors de combat,175 or were civilians, medical personnel, or religious personnel taking no active part in the hostilities.

    The perpetrator was aware of the factual circumstances that established this status.

    The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict not of an international character.

    The perpetrator was aware of factual circumstances that established the existence of an armed conflict.176

    1. Thus, murder is committed upon the intentional killing of a protected person in the context of an armed conflict when the perpetrator is aware of the circumstances of the victim and the conflict itself. Interpretations given by the international courts to the elements of murder largely mirror those of traditional criminal law. For example, even where the perpetrator does not directly kill the victim at his own hand, the act(s) of the perpetrator must at least be a “substantial cause of the death” of the victim.177 Premeditation does not appear as a required element.

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