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The War Crime of Wilful Killing

The War Crime of Wilful Killing is an offence under section 268.24 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You caused the death of another person
  2. That person was protected under a Geneva Convention
  3. You knew of, or were reckless to, the circumstances establishing that the person was protected under a Geneva Convention, and
  4. Your conduct took place in the context of, and associated with, international armed conflict.

You ‘caused’ the person’s death if your conduct substantially contributed to it.

You were ‘reckless’ if you were aware there was a substantial risk that the person was protected under a Geneva Convention, but went ahead with your actions regardless.

Persons protected under the Geneva Conventions include:

  1. Civilians
  2. Wounded combatants
  3. Prisoners of war
  4. Medical and religious personnel attached to armed forces, and
  5. War correspondents.

‘International armed conflict’ includes, “all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more… [nations] even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them”. It covers “all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory… [of a nation], even if the said occupation meets with no resistance”.

Self-defence is a complete defence to the charge.

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