A simple look at the timeline of human evolution will make you realize that history is full of wars and people fighting against each other for one reason or another. In most cases, organized wars are usually launched by governments and their leaders, not by the common people, and they are often the result of greedy people’s desire for control of certain lands and the resources found there. Even though war is the ultimate and absolutely worst solution to resolve differences between two or more groups, the atrocities that take place during it are even worse than the war itself. This is how the concept of war crimes emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, when the body of customary international law applicable to warfare between sovereign states was codified.
There have been many war crimes since the term first began to be officially used, and it’s truly terrifying to think how many more there would be if the concept existed from the start of military history. Some of the deadliest war crimes include the violent colonization of the Americas, the Holocaust, and the Holodomor, but we are afraid these are only some of the most well-known and not just solitary incidents. These are 25 Lesser-Known But Horrific War Crimes That Might Shock You.
The Bleiburg repatriations encompass events that took place after World War II in Europe, when tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians associated with the Axis Powers fleeing Yugoslavia were repatriated to that country. Thousands were murdered or subjected to forced labor camps.
The Višegrad massacres, also known as the Višegrad Genocide, were acts of mass murder committed against the Bosniak population of the town of Višegrad during the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia at the start of the Bosnian War. According to documents from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), based on the victim reports, about three thousand Bosniaks were murdered during the violence, including about six hundred women and 119 children.
Ghouta Chemical Attack
The Ghouta chemical attack took place during the Syrian Civil War in the early hours of August 21, 2013. Several opposition-controlled areas around Damascus were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. Estimates of the death toll range from at least 281 to 1,729, with many of them children. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq War.
Khan Yunis Massacre
This massacre took place during the Suez Crisis on November 3, 1956, in the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis. During an Israel Defense Forces operation to reopen the Egyptian-blockaded Straits of Tiran, Israeli soldiers shot two hundred unarmed Palestinians in Khan Yunis and Rafah. According to Joe Sacco’s graphic novel Footnotes in Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot a number of Palestinian men in their homes and lined up others and executed them. However, the Israeli authorities claim IDF soldiers ran into local militants and a battle erupted.
Al-Askari Mosque Bombing
On February 22, 2006, al-Askari mosque, in the Iraqi city of Samarra, was bombed. President George W. Bush suggested that “the evidence indicated” it was “an Al Qaeda plot.” The bombing was followed by retaliatory violence with over a hundred dead bodies being found the next day and well over one thousand people killed in the days following the bombing.
Nisour Square Massacre
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater military contractors (a private military corporation) shot and killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The fatalities occurred while a Blackwater Personal Security Detail (PSD) was escorting a convoy of US State Department vehicles to a meeting in western Baghdad with officials from the US Agency for International Development. The shooting led to the unraveling of the North Carolina–based company, which since has replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.
The Klečka killings involved the mass murder of twenty-two Kosovo Serb civilians, including children, by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). After the killings, members of the KLA attempted to dispose of the bodies by incinerating them in a lime kiln. The Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the killings as a “Nazi-style crime.”
The Srebrenica massacre (1995) was the murder of more than eight thousand Muslim Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War. The killings were perpetrated by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić.
The al-Anfal Campaign, also known as the Kurdish Genocide, was a violent campaign against the Kurdish people in northern Iraq, led by Ali Hassan al-Majid in the final stages of the Iran–Iraq War. The campaign also targeted other minority communities including Assyrians, Shabaks, Iraqi Turkmens, Yazidis, Mandeans. Many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also destroyed.
Black Saturday (December 6, 1975) was a series of massacres and armed clashes in Beirut, Lebanon, that occurred in the first stages of the Lebanese Civil War. In an orgy of bloodletting, hundreds of people were murdered in a few hours, most of them civilians. Estimates of the total number range from two hundred to six hundred.
Tây Vinh Massacre
This was a series of massacres conducted by the ROK Capital Division of the South Korean Army between February 12 and March 17, 1966. 1,200 unarmed locals in Bình An village, today Tây Vinh village, were killed.
Bloody Gulch Massacre
This massacre took place during the Korean War on August 12, 1950, in “Bloody Gulch,” west of Masan, South Korea. Members of the North Korean People’s Army executed seventy-five US Army prisoners of war during one of the smaller engagements in the Battle of Pusan Perimeter.
Bersiap is the name given by the Dutch to a violent and chaotic phase of the Indonesian National Revolution following World War II. The Bersiap period lasted from August 1945 to December 1946, and it is estimated that nearly 25,000 Indo-European civilians, Dutch, and loyalists to the foreign authorities were killed by Indonesian nationalist forces.
The Rheinwiesenlager War Crimes
The Rheinwiesenlager were transit camps for millions of captured German soldiers after World War II. It is reported that there were at least thousands and potentially tens of thousands of deaths from torture, starvation, and exposure.
Massacres of Treuenbrietzen
Treuenbrietzen, a small town in southwest Brandenburg, has existed since the Middle Ages but entered the history books on April 21, 1945, when it fell to the Red Army’s Ukrainian Front. During a typical victory celebration, drunk Soviet soldiers kidnapped a number of German women and raped them at Soviet headquarters, while all the members of Hitler’s youth in the area were executed.
The Katyn Massacre
The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. Originally thought to have been committed by the Nazis in 1941, Mikhail Gorbachev admitted in 1990 that it had been a Soviet operation. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.
Bangka Island Massacre
The Bangka Island massacre was committed on February 16, 1942, when Imperial Japanese soldiers machine-gunned twenty-two Australian Army nurses, with just one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel.
Massacre of Kalavryta
What is known as the Holocaust of Kalavryta refers to the extermination of the male population and the total destruction of Kalavryta, Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II, on December 13, 1943. In total, nearly seven hundred civilians were killed during the reprisals of Operation Kalavryta. This included twenty-eight communities—towns, villages, monasteries, and settlements.
The Mỹ Lai Massacre
The Mỹ Lai massacre was the mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War. It was committed by US soldiers from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated.
The Gardelegen massacre was a war crime committed by German SS and Luftwaffe troops during World War II. On April 13, 1945, on the Isenschnibbe estate near the northern German town of Gardelegen, the troops forced 1,016 slave laborers who were part of a transport evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp into a large barn that was then set on fire. Most of the prisoners were burned alive.
Deir Yassin Massacre
The term “Deir Yassin massacre” refers to the incident that occurred on April 9, 1948, when more than 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi attacked a Palestinian Arab village of roughly six hundred innocent, unarmed people. More than 107 Palestinians were reportedly killed during the military operation, with many victims being women and children. Many survivors were taken as hostages and many were killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem.
February 19, 1937 is a macabre date on the Ethiopian calendar. What is known as Yekatit 12, was a vicious massacre and imprisonment of thousands of people by the Fascist Italian occupation forces that invaded the country.
Rape of Belgium
The Rape of Belgium was one of the darkest war crimes of World War I and refers to the German invasion of Belgium. It is officially estimated that more than six thousand innocent, unarmed Belgian citizens, including many children, were murdered, and it has been reported that most of the women were raped before they were killed.
Darfur War Crimes
Despite the fact that Sudanese authorities claim a death toll of nearly twenty thousand people, many international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with the Coalition for International Justice being one of the most important, have claimed that more than 400,000 civilians have perished since the ongoing war in Darfur started in 2003.
The Greek Pontic Genocide
The Greek Pontic genocide was one of the most horrifying war crimes of the first half of the twentieth century and resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the Christian Orthodox Greek population from its historic homeland in Anatolia. During World War I and its aftermath (1914–23), the Turkish army reportedly murdered nearly a million civilians of Greek origin and Christian faith.