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Would Francisco Pizzaro Be Considered A War Criminal Today?

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Would Francisco Pizarro be considered a war criminal today?

Francisco Pizarro, born c. 1471-1478 in Trujillo, Spain, was a Spanish conquistador. He is known as the conqueror of the Inca Empire, and founder of Lima, the capital of Peru. Not only did he participate in the Vasco Nunez de Balboa expedition to Panama that discovered the Pacific Ocean, but he also claimed most of South America for Spain and opened the way for Spanish culture and religion to dominate South America. In doing so, Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory of any military leader and delivered the most riches to his country with the smallest cost of men and resources. Daring, cruel, ruthless, and corrupt are a few of the adjectives that accurately describe Francisco Pizarro, and he is often regarded as a war criminal for his acts during the conquering of the Inca Empire. (

Atahualpa was the last free reigning emperor of the Inca Empire. Pizarro, when reaching the Inca town of Cajamarca, invited Atahualpa to a feast in his honor, but secretly had an ambush attack planned. When Atahualpa arrived at the meeting place with an unarmed escort of several thousand men, Pizarro sent a priest to attempt to convince the Inca emperor to accept the sovereignty of Christianity, but he instead flung a bible handed to him in disgust. An attack was immediately ordered and Pizarro’s men slaughtered thousands of Incas, capturing the emperor in the process. Atahualpa offered to fill a room with treasure as ransom for his release, and Pizarro accepted. Although Atahualpa provided 24 tons of silver and gold from throughout the Inca Empire, Pizarro treacherously put him on trial for plotting to overthrow the Spanish, having his half brother murdered, and for several other lesser charges. A Spanish tribunal sentenced him to die, and when the emperor refused a last time to convert to Christianity, an iron collar was tightened around his neck until he died. Pizarro then marched on Cuzco and the Inca capital fell without a struggle. The conquest was a gruesome one filled with bloodshed, plunder, savagery, and untold Spanish atrocities leaving a shameful mark on Pizarro's reputation. It was later found that several Spanish men had raped Inca women, including Pizarro who violated the wife of an Inca man. (

A war crime is defined as, “a crime committed against an enemy, prisoners of war, or subjects in wartime that violates international agreements” ( While Pizarro was not punished of war crimes during the time period he committed them, he most certainly could be convicted of serious charges in this day and age. A war crime can be punishable if it can be defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or is prohibited by the Annex to the Hague Convention, or is restricted by the amendment at Geneva 3 May 1996. (

According to Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” (

Atahualpa, at the time of his capture, was unarmed, as were the rest of his men. It is clearly stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention that the capturing of unarmed persons, even those who are active in the armed forces, is strictly prohibited. The Geneva Convention also prohibits the capture of hostages. Atahualpa can be considered a hostage, rather than a prisoner of war, because he offered to pay his captors a ransom and they accepted. (




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