Crimes against humanity

What are crimes against humanity?

Unlike war crimes, crimes against humanity can occur in peacetime as well as within conflict and, unlike genocide, can target any civilian population regardless of their affiliation or identity. Yet unlike those first two atrocity crimes, crimes against humanity have yet to codified into an international treaty. However, since the end of the Second World War and the Nuremberg Trials, their prohibition has become a peremptory norm of international law applicable to all States. The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (PDF, 373 KB) under Article 7, holds the most extensive list of acts that can constitute the crime. These can include:

  • murder;
  • extermination;
  • enslavement;
  • deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  • imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty;
  • torture;
  • rape, sexual slavery, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender or other grounds universally recognized as impermissable under international law;
  • enforced disappearance of persons;
  • apartheid;
  • other inhumane acts involving serious harm to physical or mental health.

What differentiates crimes against humanity from normal crimes carried out randomly, accidently or in an isolated fashion is the scale and manner in which they are carried out. To be classed as a crime against humanity, the above acts must be carried out over a large scale (either geographically or in relation to the number of victims) and in a systematic way to further State or organisational goals. Furthermore, for a perpetrator to be convicted of having committed a crime against humanity they must have acted with knowledge that their act was part of an attack against a given civilian population.