Even in the chaos of war, there are rules. In armed conflict, people will die, but they shouldn’t be hunted. Countries can capture strategic members of another country, but they shouldn’t be tortured. Leaders can exert their influence, but their tactics should be reasonable. War was understood, war crimes were unacceptable.
In 1899, the First Hague Conference was assembled to put these ideals into formal statements of laws that would govern wars and armed conflicts. Eight years later, the Second Hague Conference continued the work. A third conference was scheduled to take place in 1914, but as a result of the start of World War I, never happened.
The rules and procedures for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, however, were in place and the same laws are upheld today. When someone breaks those laws, the force and attention of the world is at the ready to bring them to justice.
Following are some of history’s most egregious war criminals, what they did and what punishment, if any, they received.