Why Only War Crimes? De-Linking Human Rights Offenses from Armed Conflict

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The term war crimes brings to mind a whirlwind of disturbing memories - from the Holocaust to My Lai to the roundup and execution of young and old men throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yet alongside these images of war are others that should not be neglected by the international community - those of the Kulaks, or the Gulag, of Mao's millions of victims, or of the Khmer Rouge's torture chambers. Moving from the millions of victims to the mere thousands, the recent past has witnessed the phenomenon of the disappeared throughout Latin America, the practice of slavery in parts of Africa, and the systematic use of torture worldwide. What all these atrocities have in common is that they took place outside of any armed conflict and, thus, cannot be labeled as war crimes, though they often are.