Attacks directed against civilians; torture of detainees; sexual slavery – when committed within the context of armed conflict, these and other grave crimes amount to war crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. While the system of international criminal justice makes it possible to prosecute war crimes, in many cases those responsible are not held to account.
There is often a huge gap between the promise of international criminal law and the reality of how it is enforced. While there have been trials for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to date no politician or military officer from a Western state has ever sat on the defendant's bench at the International Criminal Court or a UN Special Tribunal. The double standards of international criminal justice in many cases represents an obstacle to the enforcement of universal human rights.
When addressing crimes committed in armed conflict, it is essential that the law applies equally to all. ECCHR takes legal action to address war crimes like the abuse of Iraqi detainees by British soldiers and torture in detention facilities run by the Syrian intelligence services. ECCHR uses a range of legal approaches – submissions to the International Criminal Court, criminal proceedings in national jurisdictions, actions under the principle of universal jurisdiction – to challenge impunity for war crimes.