Skip to main content

Model United Nations

Security Council Topic 1

War Crimes

Since the end of World War II, the international community has tried to crack down on crimes conducted during war, both against civilian populations and opposing forces. The first war crimes tribunal sought to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust and the second World War to justice. War crimes can be defined as “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” and “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in an armed conflict not of an international character.” War crimes can take multiple forms such as the torture/mistreatment of prisoners, destroying the homes of civilians, genocide of entire populations, and more. Today, the mission international organizations have in this field is three-fold: preventing such crimes from being committed, defending groups subjected to war crimes from the attacker, and prosecuting those who have committed those actions. The first two duties rest in the hands of the Security Council, which has the authority to send peacekeepers or military forces to regions where war crimes are about to be or currently being committed. This is the principal question that you will address: how can the international community — mainly the Security Council — effectively protect and defend populations who cannot defend themselves?

Today war crimes are carried out in most notably, but not limited to, the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and Central Asia regions as they are engulfed by wars. For example, the Afghan War continues after sixteen years of fighting between the Taliban, the US-backed coalition supporting the Afghan government, and most recently, the Islamic State. Sudan and South Sudan are still locked in a bitter war as both sides fight for control of resources and dominance over the other factions, committing acts that are reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Rwanda that was perpetrated by the Hutu group against the Tutsis. In Syria, both Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces have been accused of waging chemical warfare on citizens with sarin gas, and Netanyahu’s Israel was found to use white phosphorus shells on Palestinians in Gaza during the 2008-09 war. All of these issues are relevant to the topic of war crimes and must be debated in the Security Council.

World superpowers are not immune to perpetrating such transgressions. Aside from their actions in Syria, the United States has supported Saudi Arabia despite war crimes committed against Yemen, where the Saudi government has launched airstrikes on civilian buildings such as hospitals, and has set up blockades preventing much needed supplies from entering the country; and, has long supported Israeli actions against the Palestinians as the former have continued settlement expansion into the latter’s territories which results in the demolition of Palestinian homes, torturing detainees, and launching missiles in civilian locations. Russia has had involvement in questionable activities such as assisting the Assad regime in their civil war by destroying civilian hospitals and non-rebel aligned buildings, and of course two wars in Chechnya.

The Security Council’s duties as it relates to the issue of war crimes are the following:

“for responding to early warnings provided by the Secretary-General or presented by other organs, engaging in the prevention and resolution of disputes, mandating peace operations to provide different types of support aimed at maintaining peace and stability and protecting civilians, and preventing or halting armed conflict and other forms of violence. As the perpetration of atrocity crimes presents a threat to peace and security and usually occurs in a context of armed conflict, the Security Council has a responsibility to take collective action to prevent and halt atrocity crimes, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations against those crimes.”

The Security Council has a variety of actions that is may take in response to war crimes. These actions include sanctions on a particular country, party, or individual within a state that has committed war crimes with sanctions. This prevents those mentioned from gaining access to money in foreign accounts with the intention of making the state’s economic conditions unbearable. If necessary, the Security Council can approve military action against a party if there is a credible threat to a civilian population. The current doctrine is known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and was established in 2005 to prevent genocide or other war crimes from being committed. R2P has three core pillars. First is the responsibility to protect, which dictates that every state must protect “its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Second is the responsibility of the international community “to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility.” Finally, when the state is complicit in one of these war crimes, it is the obligation of the international community to protect the at-risk populace. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine was first used by the international community in the 2011 civil war in Libya where Muammar Gaddafi was about to launch an attack on the eastern city of Benghazi. The Security Council has not been successful in carrying out this doctrine in Syria or other locations as members of the Permanent-5 (P5) of the Security Council, have vetoed any resolution which conflicts with their own interests.

As the UN body charged with monitoring conflicts, it is the Security Council’s task to ensure that civilian populations in war torn regions are shielded from danger. This is certainly not an easy task. Resolutions can fail if just one of the P5 states (US, UK, France, China, and Russia) use their veto. Members of the Security Council often vote based on what works in their strategic interests, and not exactly what is in the best interest of the victims of wars. It is your task to determine how war crimes should be dealt with when they occur. It is up to you to determine if current mechanisms need to be strengthened or to start over and create a new framework for dealing with war crimes, and those who carry them out.

Questions to Consider:


  • How does your country believe war crimes should be defined?
  • Is your country currently engaged in war crimes? Has your country committed any in the past?
  • Is it possible for dominant powers (such as the United States and Russia) to be held accountable for war crimes reportedly committed on their behalf?
  • Would the deployment of UN peacekeepers be effective in deterring war crimes?
  • Should sanctions be placed on countries harboring war criminals in an effort to incentivize them to hand them over to international police?
  • Is the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect effective for protecting at-risk populations from war crimes?
  • Can/should a response to war crimes be codified into international law? What happens if an atrocity comes up “just short” of meeting the definition? Would it be ignored by the international community?


Resources to Consider:

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2017), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • Scheduled to open in fall 2018, a new residential tower will offer suite-style housing and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about The Tower

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wins, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • 96% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit Career Services.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. 95% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • As a freshman in the highly selective Honors Program, learn how to gain expertise in anything from music to forest ecology. After that, tackle a contemporary social, economic, or political problem. If you like, you can live on an Honors-only floor of a Carthage residence hall. 

    • In 2016 and 2017, Carthage was named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our athletic and recreation center, student union, computer labs, audiovisual production suite, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 10 years. Our new science center caps it off.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from archaeology to athletic training, neuroscience to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of our students receive financial aid, a hefty chunk of which is scholarships and grants — including $1.25 million annually from the Presidential Scholarship Competition and numerous Merit Scholarships. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” says biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 30 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from 75% tuition up to full tuition, room, and board. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about the Carthage core.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 12:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 120 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Chemistry Club, to Frisbee and Latin Belly Dancing. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • Imagine presenting your original research at an international conference — as an undergraduate. Carthage is dedicated to undergraduate research. Learn more about current opportunities.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …