In public international law
, a crime against humanity
is an act of persecution
or any large scale atrocities against a body of people, and is the highest level of criminal offense.
The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum states that crimes against humanity "are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. 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. However, murder, extermination, 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 constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion."
Abolition of the slave trade
Although the phrase "crime against humanity" was not used in the Declaration of the Powers, on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, of 8th of February 1815
(Which also formed ACT, No. XV. of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna
of the same year) the text of the declaration 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".
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:
The London Charter of the International Military Tribunal
was the decree that set down the laws and procedures by which the post-World War II
Nuremberg trials were to be conducted. The charter defined that only crimes of the European Axis Powers
could be tried. Article 6 stated that the Tribunal was established for the trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries; paragraph 6.a defined crimes against peace
, 6.b war crimes
and paragraph 6.c, Crimes Against Humanity
In the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals it was also stated:
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. The Charter of the United Nations
(Article 13, 14, 15) makes actions of the General Assembly advisory to the Security Council. In regard to apartheid, the UN General Assembly has not made any findings, nor have apartheid-related trials for crimes against humanity been conducted.
The United Nations
has been primarily responsible for the prosecution of crimes against humanity since it was chartered in 1948. The UN has been where all modern prosecutions for crimes against humanity have occurred. The International Criminal Court
(ICC) was recently organized by the Rome Statute
and the UN has delegated several crimes against humanity cases to the ICC. 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. The first person to be handed over to the ICC was Thomas Lubanga
. His trial has still has not been completed. The ICC still is seeking Joseph Kony
. When the ICC President reported to the UN regarding its progress handling this 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. The UN has not referred any further crimes against humanity cases to the ICC since March 2005.
UN Security Council responsibility
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". The resolution
commits the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.
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, 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: "penalise rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation 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;
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 indicia of the required elements for a crime against humanity, i.e. 'a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population'".
- William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crimes of Crimes, Cambridge University Press, 2000,