Not so much in the interests of spurious balance, but because it provides a way to deal with a number of general issues of international law in a more neutral framework, I thought I’d consider what war crimes have been committed by Hezbollah in the course of the present conflict. I am not an international lawyer, though I have had reasonable luck in the past arguing points of international law on the Internet. I am leaving comments enabled for the time being, though I would like all commenters to respect the principle that the blame game is not zero sum, and in specific application to this case, the fact that one side is committing war crimes does not absolve the other side from their obligation to obey the law.
Throughout this post, I am assuming that Hezbollah can be considered as a separate military entity and that its troops are being judged according to the law of war rather than as civilian criminals (or for that matter, as “illegal combatants”). I think that this is fair enough; the Geneva Conventions are rather vague on what constitutes a legitimate military entity, but my opinion is that if state sponsorship was a necessary condition this would have been explicitly stated and it seems to me that it would be hard to argue that Hezbollah are not guerillas under Protocol I. Although the Conventions seem to mainly be considering cases of civil war rather than cross-border aggression by parastates I personally believe that they apply. More under the fold.
The most obvious war crime Hezbollah has committed is firing rockets into towns in Israel. Hezbollah has no military objectives in Israel to which the civilian casualties might be considered collateral, so the question of proportionality does not arise. (Parenthetically I will note that “proportionality” is an unfortunate word as it implies a rather silly concept of equal response which some people have decided to pick up and run with. The relevant Geneva Convention has a prohibition on “excess” which is better). There is simply no defending this; whoever carried out those attacks is guilty of the war crime of attacking non-combatants.
There is a certain amount of ambiguity about whether the crime of aggression has been committed. Aggression is the most serious war crime, as it is obviously the crime from which all others spring. On the face of it, it looks like the crime of aggression for Hezbollah to be crossing a border and taking hostages. On the other hand, the hostage raid took place in the context of a general environment of border skirmishes between the IDF and Hezbollah and I would suspect that it would be a lot easier to assert that the Hezb raid was unprovoked and came out of a blue sky than to prove it. The cross-border rocket attacks would also be potentially the basis for a prosecution for aggression, but once more, it is difficult to be sure – contrary to the more excitable accounts, the missiles were not “raining down” over the last few years, but were being fired rather sporadically in the context of the aforementioned border skirmishes. Aggression is a surprisingly difficult crime to prove and my guess is that no sensible prosecutor would think it worth his while to get stuck in the general issue of “who started it”. Hostage taking is, of course, itself a war crime itself.
But the most important war crime to have been committed by Hezbollah, and the one most obviously related to a load of other issues we have discussed on CT (specifically, the question of whether the collateral damage the IDF has inflicted on Lebanon is excessive and therefore a war crime; the other potential war crimes charges against the IDF of reprisals and destroying essential civilian infrastructure are only tangentially relevant to what Hezbollah does), is the war crime of sheltering or using “human shields”.
I don’t think it can be denied that Hezbollah have committed the war crime of sheltering in a number of occasions in South Lebanon. Storing munitions dumps in civilian villages is a war crime (Update: Dan Kervick makes a quite convincing case otherwise in comments below), and there are numerous credible reports of Hezb troops literally sheltering behind civilians in order to carry out rocket attacks. I am sure that, faced with this, Israeli commanders have been placed in an invidious position because their own obligation not to attack non-combatants is not removed by Hezbollah committing the war crime of sheltering, and it must be powerfully difficult to assess, in the heat of battle, whether the military objective of destroying a Hezbollah rocket unit is of sufficient importance to justify the collateral damage involved. The fact that any sensible commander will err on the side of saving his own neck and achieving his military objective is, of course, the primary reason why sheltering is a war crime in the first place.
However I am much less sure that Hezbollah is committing a war crime in South Beirut. Their commanders have to live somewhere, and that is where they live. Even in the beqaa Valley where sheltering has definitely taken place, the mere fact that Hezbollah troops live in a village is not a war crime. The point here is that Hezbollah are fighting on their own territory, and the Geneva Conventions surely do not require them to pretend otherwise by moving out of their homes and setting up a barracks in order to make them easier to kill. I think it would be ridiculous to have an interpretation of the Geneva Conventions under which a man can be committing a war crime by going home to bed and as far as I can see, the requirements on guerrillas in Article 44 defining combatant status (basically, that they carry their weapons openly when in combat or on the way to combat) agree with me on this. Article 44 also suggests to me that Hezbollah are definitely committing a war crime by transporting their rockets in civilian minivans.
I think that pretty much covers the areas of interest, and reiterate that the fact that someone is committing a war crime does not mean that no other parties to the same events could be, and is a separate question entirely from the allocation of moral responsibility (which, I also reiterate, is not a zero sum game).
 I spell it this way in defiance of normal transliterations and in homage to the lyrics of “Armageddon Days” as printed in the sleeve notes to the The The album, “Mind Bomb”. God doesn’t belong to the Yankee dollar, God doesn’t plant bombs for Hezbollah.