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Crimes against humanity

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Title: Crimes against humanity  
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Subject: International criminal law, Command responsibility, Genocide, Amnesty law, Khmer Rouge Tribunal
Collection: Crimes Against Humanity, Human Rights Abuses, International Criminal Law, Torture, War Crimes
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Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings."[1] They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; massacres; dehumanization; extermination; human experimentation; extrajudicial punishments; military use of children; kidnappings; unjust imprisonment; slavery; cannibalism, torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution; and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may instead constitute grave infringements of human rights, or — depending on the circumstances — war crimes, but are not classified as crimes against humanity.[2]


  • Abolition of the slave trade 1
  • First use 2
  • Nuremberg trials 3
  • Tokyo trials 4
  • Apartheid 5
  • United Nations 6
  • UN Security Council 7
  • International courts and criminal tribunals 8
    • Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) 8.1
    • International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia 8.2
    • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda 8.3
    • Special Court for Sierra Leone 8.4
    • International Criminal Court 8.5
  • Council of Europe 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13

Abolition of the slave trade

There were several bilateral treaties in 1814 that foreshadowed the multilateral treaty of Final Act of the Congress of Vienna (1815) that used wording expressing condemnation of the slave trade using moral language. For example the Treaty of Paris (1814) between Britain and France included the wording "principles of natural justice"; and the British and United States plenipotentiaries stated in the Treaty of Ghent (1814) that the slave trade violated the "principles of humanity and justice".[3]

The multilateral Declaration of the Powers, on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, of 8 February 1815 (Which also formed ACT, No. XV. of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna of the same year) included in its first sentence the concept of the "principles of humanity and universal morality" as justification for ending a trade that was "odious in its continuance".[4]

First use

On May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers, Britain, France, and Russia, jointly issued a statement explicitly charging for the first time ever another government of committing "a crime against humanity". An excerpt from this joint statement reads:

In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.[5]

At the conclusion of the war, an international war crimes commission recommended the creation of a tribunal to try "violations of the laws of humanity". However, the US representative objected to references to "law of humanity" as being imprecise and insufficiently developed at that time and the concept was not pursued.[6]

Nuremberg trials

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal was the decree that set down the laws and procedures by which the post-War Nuremberg trials were to be conducted. The drafters of this document were faced with the problem of how to respond to the Holocaust and grave crimes committed by the Nazi regime. A traditional understanding of war crimes gave no provision for crimes committed by a power on its own citizens. Therefore, Article 6 of the Charter was drafted to include not only traditional war crimes and crimes against peace, but in paragraph 6 (c) Crimes Against Humanity, defined as

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.[7][8]

In the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals it was also stated:

The Tribunal therefore cannot make a general declaration that the acts before 1939 were crimes against humanity within the meaning of the Charter, but from the beginning of the war in 1939 war crimes were committed on a vast scale, which were also crimes against humanity; and insofar as the inhumane acts charged in the Indictment, and committed after the beginning of the war, did not constitute war crimes, they were all committed in execution of, or in connection with, the aggressive war, and therefore constituted crimes against humanity.[9]

Tokyo trials

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo Trial, was convened to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for three types of crimes: "Class A" (crimes against peace), "Class B" (war crimes), and "Class C" (crimes against humanity), committed during the Second World War.

The legal basis for the trial was established by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (CIMTFE) that was proclaimed on 19 January 1946. The tribunal convened on May 3, 1946, and was adjourned on November 12, 1948.

A panel of eleven judges presided over the IMTFE, one each from victorious Allied powers (United States, Republic of China, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Provisional Government of the French Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, British India, and the Philippines).

In the Tokyo Trial, Crimes against Humanity (Class C) was not applied for any suspect.[10] Prosecutions related to the Nanking Massacre were categorised as infringements upon the Laws of War.[11]

War crimes charges against more junior personnel were dealt with separately, in other cities throughout Far East Asia, such as the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal and the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials.


The systematic persecution of one racial group by another, such as occurred during the South African apartheid government, was recognized as a crime against humanity by the United Nations General Assembly in 1976.[12] The Charter of the United Nations (Article 13, 14, 15) makes actions of the General Assembly advisory to the Security Council.[13] In regard to apartheid in particular, the UN General Assembly has not made any findings, nor have apartheid-related trials for crimes against humanity been conducted.

United Nations

The United Nations has been primarily responsible for the prosecution of crimes against humanity since it was chartered in 1948.[14] The Rome Statute and the UN has delegated several crimes against humanity cases to the ICC.[15] Because these cases were referred to the ICC by the UN, the ICC has broad authority and jurisdiction for these cases. The ICC acting without a UN referral lacks the broad jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity, and cannot prosecute many cases, particularly if they occur outside of ICC-member nations. The most recent 2005 UN referral to the ICC of Darfur resulted in an indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2008.[16] The first person to be handed over to the ICC was Thomas Lubanga.[17] He was convicted on 14 March 2012 and on 10 July 2012 was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, pending appeal.[1] The ICC is still seeking Joseph Kony.[17] When the ICC President reported to the UN regarding its progress handling these crimes against humanity case, Judge Phillipe Kirsch said "The Court does not have the power to arrest these persons. That is the responsibility of States and other actors. Without arrests, there can be no trials.[18] The UN has not referred any further crimes against humanity cases to the ICC since March 2005.

A report on the 2008-9 Gaza War by Richard Goldstone accused Palestinian and Israeli forces of possibly committing a crime against humanity.[19] In 2011, Goldstone said that he no longer believed that Israeli forces had targeted civilians or committed a crime against humanity.[20]

UN Security Council

UN Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 28 April 2006, "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity".[21] The resolution commits the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.

In 2008 the U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 1820, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.[22]

International courts and criminal tribunals

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Special Court for Sierra Leone

International Criminal Court

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in The Hague (Netherlands) and the Rome Statute provides for the ICC to have jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The definition of what is a "crime against humanity" for ICC proceedings has significantly broadened from its original legal definition or that used by the UN,[23] and Article 7 of the treaty stated that:

The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum states that crimes against humanity

Council of Europe

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 30 April 2002 issued a recommendation to the member states, on the protection of women against violence. In the section "Additional measures concerning violence in conflict and post-conflict situations", states in paragraph 69 that member states should: "penalize rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as an intolerable violation of human rights, as crimes against humanity and, when committed in the context of an armed conflict, as war crimes;"[25]

In the Explanatory Memorandum on this recommendation when considering paragraph 69:

To fall under the Rome Statute, a crime against humanity which is defined in Article 7.1 must be "part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population". Article 7.2.a states "For the purpose of paragraph 1: "Attack directed against any civilian population means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack." This means that an individual crime on its own, or even a number of such crimes, would not fall under the Rome Statute unless they were the result of a State policy or an organizational policy. This was confirmed by Luis Moreno Ocampo in an open letter publishing his conclusions about allegations of crimes committed during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 which might fall under the ICC. In a section entitled "Allegations concerning Genocide and Crimes against Humanity" he states that "the available information provided no reasonable indicator of the required elements for a crime against humanity," i.e. 'a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population'".[27]

The Holodomor has been recognized as a crime against humanity by the European Parliament.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court". United Nations Treaty Collection. United Nations. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b As quoted by Guy Horton in Dying Alive - A Legal Assessment of Human Rights Violations in Burma April 2005, co-Funded by The Netherlands Ministry for Development Co-Operation. See section "12.52 Crimes against humanity", Page 201. He references RSICC/C, Vol. 1 p. 360
  3. ^ Martin, Francisco Forrest (2007). The Constitution as Treaty: The International Legal Constructionalist Approach to the U.S. Constitution. Cambridge University Press. p. 101.  
  4. ^ Plenipotentiaries of the treaty (1816). The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time 32. s.n. p. p. 200. 
  5. ^ 1915 declaration
    • Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution 106th Congress,2nd Session, House of Representatives
    • Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution (Introduced in House of Representatives) 109th Congress, 1st Session, H.RES.316, June 14, 2005. 15 September 2005 House Committee/Subcommittee:International Relations actions. Status: Ordered to be Reported by the Yeas and Nays: 40–7.
    • "Crimes Against Humanity", 23 British Yearbook of International Law (1946) p. 181
    • Schabas References pp. 16-17
    • Original source of the telegram sent by the Department of State, Washington containing the French, British and Russian joint declaration
  6. ^ Cryer, Robert; Hakan Friman; Darryl Robinson; Elizabeth Wilmshurst (2007). An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. 
  7. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1 Charter of the International Military Tribunal contained in the Avalon Project archive at Yale Law School
  8. ^ Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7, page 6.
  9. ^ Judgement : The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity contained in the Avalon Project archive at Yale Law School
  10. ^ Yoshinobu Higurashi,Tokyo Saiban(Tokyo Trial),Kodansya-Gendai-Shinsho,Kodansha Limited,2008,p.26,pp.116-119.Hirohumi Hayashi,BC kyu Senpan Saiban,Iwanami Shoten Publishers,2005,p.33.
  11. ^ Yoshinobu Higurashi,op.cit.,pp.116-119.
  12. ^ International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid dopted and opened for signature, ratification by General Assembly resolution 3068 (XXVIII) of 30 November 1973. Entry into force 18 July 1976, in accordance with article X (10)
  13. ^ "Charter of the United Nations". Retrieved 2013-02-01. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Archived April 12, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ International Criminal Court, 14 July 2008. ICC Prosecutor presents case against Sudanese President, Hassan Ahmad AL BASHIR, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur at the Wayback Machine (archived July 15, 2008). Accessed 14 July 2008.
  17. ^ a b Staff. Q&A: International Criminal Court BBC, 20 March 2006
  18. ^ Judge Philippe Kirsch (President of the International Criminal Court) Address to the United Nations General Assembly at the Wayback Machine (archived June 6, 2007) (PDF) website ICC, 9 October 2006. P. 3
  19. ^ "UN condemns 'war crimes' in Gaza". BBC News. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  20. ^ Goldstone, Richard (2011-04-01). "Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  21. ^ Resolution 1674 (2006)
  23. ^ Cherif Bassiouni. "Crimes Against Humanity". Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  24. ^ Rome statute of the International Cral Court Article 7: Crimes against humanity.
  25. ^ Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe: Recommendation (2002) 5 Paragraph 69
  26. ^ Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe: Recommendation (2002) 5 Paragraph 100
  27. ^ Luis Moreno Ocampo OTP letter to senders re Iraq at the Wayback Machine (archived February 25, 2006) 9 February 2006. Page 4
  28. ^ "MEPs recognize Ukraine's famine as crime against humanity". Russian News & Information Agency. 2008-10-23. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 

Further reading

  • Macleod, Christopher (2010). "Towards a Philosophical Account of Crimes Against Humanity". European Journal of International Law 21 (2): 281–302.  
  • Sadat, Leila Nadya (2013). "Crimes Against Humanity in the Modern Age".  
  • Schabas, William A. (2000). Genocide in International Law: The Crimes of Crimes. New York: Cambridge University Press.  

External links

  • Crimes of War project
  • Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Project
  • What is a Crime Against Humanity? – an online video
  • Genocide & Crimes Against Humanity – a learning resource, highlighting the cases of Myanmar, Bosnia, the DRC, and Darfur
  • Crimes Against Humanity -- Bibliographies on the topics of the International Law Commission & International Law Seminar (UNOG Library)
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