One of the more shocking things about the topic of war crimes is the disagreement between the definition and description of these heinous crimes. At best, there is not a universally agreed definition of war crimes despite attempts for some nations and interested institutions to have one.  

While definitions cause disagreement, descriptions of war crimes are less contentious, vast and detailed. In fact, no one denies the description of what constitutes war crimes, but everyone readily denies committing the crimes.  
The difficulty of agreeing to a universal definition of war crimes must not be easily dismissed as an irritant theoretical issue reserved for arm-chair scribes and litigators far detached from war ravaged countries. This issue concerns all humanity if true justice and transparency must be honored. The fact that no consensus exists on definition reveals existing mistrust among nations. To avoid such political escapism, the 1949 Geneva Convention and the two 1977 additional Protocols overcame the lack of consensus on definitions and focused on ‘the protection of persons not or no longer taking part in hostilities.’
Some of the descriptive text of war crimes include willful killing, Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; and willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health, among many others.  These few descriptions of war crimes depict the cruel reality of human action throughout history, which includes connivance, complicity and refusal to admit guilt or consider compensation. On the face of it, few nations would escape guilt for war crimes whether via civil war, genocide or territorial invasions. This is why nations, especially the dominant ones, find it necessary to create and sustain narratives that justify their participation in war.
Such narratives depict the self-interest of participant groups – whether, civilian, sponsor, ally or combatant. It is these competing self-interests that make consensus difficult. Typically, and in most cases, it is the victors of war that define who the war criminals are, including the justified punishment for the defeated. In the aftermath, the victor is likely to either omit or excuse their own crimes during the war as necessary to achieve their goals. Several examples refer: the narrative for defeating Germany in the second world war is still relevant so that any possible war crimes by the allies is nuanced than (loudly) pronounced. Instead, the repetitious narrative demanded by the allies created a more hostile reaction on the part of a losing Germany.  Secondly, the rationale and narrative for the invasion of Afghanistan by the United States and its allies remains potent, even to this day.
Despite the controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay and the treatment and torture of suspects of terrorism, none of the western allies have admitted to war crimes. Admittedly, they excluded their citizens from being subjected to such heinous treatment. Such is the power of narrative. It indemnifies the storyteller as much as possible to justify their actions. In these powerful narratives, for example, colonialism is written as a justifiable consequence of exploration due to an expanding political and economic reach of the global north. This narrative tells of the benefits of industrialization and modernization as consequences of colonialism. Emphatic in this narrative is that the colonized were lesser people before being awakened. The internal and external displacements, genocide, killings and outright dispossession of property and land do not, in this narrative, offend any human right.  
Only in recent memory did Germany agree to compensate Namibia for genocide between 1904 and 1908. Even then, they had to be sued, and the matter remained protracted over a long period. If Namibia had agreed to fall prey to the false narrative of their history, this historical genocide would not be known globally. Belgium, among others, has not compensated in any form commensurate for the crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during their illegal occupation there. To define colonialism as an invasion and social economic war against an entire continent, for example, would be viewed as ludicrous because the predominant narrative has been ingrained in the school and social systems. Those colonised must never cite it as an offence to their existence.
Those on the losing side, or those without power rarely have their voices heard beyond being labelled victims. That is because a dominated people occupy their place of oppression not by their own making, but by the deliberate design of the oppressor to remove guilt from their actions. Those who commit crimes will never use their power to admit guilt, but rather to distance themselves by creating a sufficient narrative that is devoid of compunction.

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