Top 10 Most Despicable War Crimes in History

Script written by George Pacheco.

Whether you call them massacres, genocides or crimes against humanity, some of the most despicable crimes during war have led to countless deaths. From the Srebrenica Massacre during the Bosnian War, to the Armenian Genocide to the experiments of Unit 731, which researched biological and chemical warfare, these are some of the most serious violations of the law of war in history. WatchMojo counts down ten of the worst war crimes ever.

Special thanks to our users Faten Al Dabbagh, Wonderboy and Bryan Bell for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/%20Top%2010%20War%20Crimes


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Script written by George Pacheco.

Top 10 Most Despicable War Crimes in History

These are some of the most reprehensible actions ever committed in human history. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Despicable Crimes During War.

For this list, we’ll be ranking the most infamous crimes against humanity committed during times of war. For the record, we’re not making light of these serious events, but rather presenting an honest look into some of warfare’s darkest moments.

#10: Srebrenica Massacre

The Bosnian War was a tragic conflict that saw numerous war crimes committed in the wake of the breakup of Yugoslavia. One of the most infamous incidents was the genocide of Muslim Bosniaks, which occurred near the tail end of the conflict, in the summer of 1995. The Serbian paramilitary group known as The Scorpions, together with the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, captured the area of Srebrenica, massacring much of the male population while abusing women, children and the elderly. Although the terms “massacre” and “genocide” have been alternatively used to describe what happened in Srebrenica, 2015 saw an official reaffirmation of the latter by the European Parliament and U.S. House of Representatives.

#9: 1971 Bangladesh Genocide

The 1971 Bangladesh Genocide was one of the most terrifying war crimes associated with Operation Searchlight, a Pakistani military operation against Bengal nationals in East Pakistan. Displacement, death and rape were all committed by both Pakistani military forces and Islamist militia groups, with estimated casualty numbers ranging from an extremely conservative 200,000 to a horrifying 3 million. What is particularly disturbing about the Bangladesh Genocide was how many women were assaulted during the country’s nine month long war for independence. The female victims of this genocidal rape have been estimated between two hundred and four hundred thousand.

#8: Mustard Gas During the Second Italo-Abyssinian War

Italy’s 1935 invasion of Abyssinia, known today as Ethiopia, was a crucial moment leading into WWII. It was during this invasion, also known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, where it was reported that Benito Mussolini’s Italian forces used mustard gas. This was in direct contradiction to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical weapons. To make matters worse, they were accused of using it against Red Cross hospital outposts, effectively committing two war crimes at once. Italy, in response, claimed that these Red Cross stations actually hid Ethiopian military operations, and that their use of chemical weapons was a justified response to the treatment of Italian prisoners by Ethiopian forces.

#7: The Experiments of Unit 731

As previously mentioned, chemical warfare was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925. But what happens when a country sees this not as a warning, but rather a challenge to get creative? Enter Unit 731, a group within the Imperial Japanese Army that conducted horrific experiments on human subjects - usually Chinese or Russian prisoners. The purpose of their research was to design new biological and chemical weapons for use during WWII, and involved forceful impregnation, intentional poisoning, un-anaesthetized surgery and inoculation with infectious diseases including, among others, the bubonic plague. Conservative estimates suggest that no fewer than 3000 subjects were experimented on, with no survivors. Other historians suspect the number to have been much higher – up to 250,000.

#6: Armenian Genocide

Between 1915 and 1918, it is estimated that up to 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed. Many more were forced to flee the country as a result of this systematic extermination. Historically treated as second-class citizens, in the late 19th century, between 80,000 and 300,000 Armenians were killed during the Hamidian massacres. The internal conflict within the Ottoman Empire again came to a violent boiling point with the start of WWI. The Ottoman Empire sided with Germany while many of their Armenian countrymen supported the Russian counter-offensive. On April 24th, 1915, the genocide began with the murder of hundreds of Armenian leaders. Deportation, concentration camps, death marches, mass burnings and drownings soon followed.

#5: Mỹ Lai Massacre

The Vietnam War was a time of great loss and controversy, the latter of which fell largely at the feet of American forces, thanks to one particularly shameful wartime incident. The My Lai Massacre occurred when an American military squadron known as Charlie Company was tasked with a search-and-destroy mission against what was said to be a Viet Cong holdout in My Lai. The soldiers of Charlie Company, who had already taken severe casualties after the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, proceeded to rape and murder hundreds of civilians in the village. Women, children and the elderly were among the victims. Only one American soldier was convicted in the aftermath.

#4: Cambodian Genocide

Pol Pot was a notorious Cambodian dictator whose Communist Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for Civil War within the country and the subsequent Cambodian Genocide. Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge sought to ethnically cleanse Cambodia into a classless society based upon the tenets of such leaders as Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. These efforts resulted in the deaths of well over a million people due to starvation, disease, exhaustion and execution. After losing to the Vietnamese, Pol Pot fled to the Thai border with the remnants of his party. While a faction of his political group did place him under house arrest, he died in 1998 without ever facing real consequences for his actions.

#3: Nigerian Civil War

The Republic of Biafra was an unrecognized state that attempted to secede from the nation of Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, after escalating tensions between Biafra’s Christian Igbo population and Nigeria’s Muslim nationals. This bid for independence eventually led to what has been called the Biafran War, or Nigerian Civil War, during which Biafra suffered from intense famine and disease, with the death toll reaching between a half million and 2 million. Meanwhile, numerous human rights violations were laid at the feet of Nigerian forces, which were accused of rape, murder and civilian bombing during their raids. Biafra couldn’t stand against Nigeria’s military strength by war’s end, and the state surrendered on January 15th, 1970.

#2: Paraguayan War

The population of Paraguay suffered an unimaginable loss of life during the Paraguayan War, also known as the War of the Triple Alliance. These losses were thanks in part to Paraguay’s fight for independence against not one, but three allied opponents. The combined assault of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay led to the deaths of a large percentage of Paraguay’s population. Paraguayans suffered greatly during this time, with the country’s dictator Francisco Solano Lopez demanding that every male citizen, including children, take up arms and fight. Except… he had no guns with which to arm the children, and so they were given sticks and fake beards. Essentially, thousands of kids were sent to be slaughtered by their own leader.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few dishonorable mentions:
- Andersonville Prison [aka Camp Sumter]
- Katyn Massacre
- Rwandan Genocide

#1: The Holocaust

It’s commonly viewed as the most shameful and horrifying event in world history. The final solution of World War II Nazi Germany and its leader Adolf Hitler was to systematically eliminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and more. The Holocaust was just one of many despicable war crimes committed during World War II, but with the imprisonment, torture and execution of over six million Jews, the Holocaust truly stands above all others in the history of atrocities. Torture camps such as Dachau, Auschwitz and Treblinka served as homes to some of the world’s most infamous human rights violations. To this day, their names serve to remind us of the true horrors of war and humankind’s potential for evil acts.

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