Reporting Justice

I/3: Crimes Against Humanity

I/3: Crimes Against Humanity

Law Module 3:  Crimes Against Humanity

The term “crimes against humanity” originated in the Preamble of the 1907 Hague Convention, which codified the customary law of armed conflict. In 1945, the Allies incorporated crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg charter, which served as the corpus juris for levying charges against Nazi leaders following World War II. Crimes against humanity encompass a wide range of abominable acts—such as mass murder, extermination, enslavement, and deportation—committed against civilians on a large scale. The charge of crimes against humanity places an onus on all governments to arrest anyone indicated for such a crime. In effect, a person who commits crimes against humanity is, like the pirate or slave trader before him, hostis humani generis, an enemy of all humankind—over whom any state could hold criminal jurisdiction. We will trace the evolution of crimes against humanity. We will also review several judgments that define “crimes against humanity.”

Key Questions:

What is meant by “crimes against humanity”?

Provide at least three examples where judges have ruled that the accused were guilty of committing “crimes against humanity” and briefly describe how they reached that judgment.

Required Readings:

In Crimes of War, read sections on Crimes Against Humanity (135-136); Persecutions on Political, Racial, or Religious Grounds (318-321); Command Responsibility (117-118); Willful Killing (427-428); Sexual Violence (369-376); Starvation (392-394); Slavery (387-389); and Child Soldiers (95-99).

Edward Greppi, “The Evolution of Individual Criminal Responsibility under International Law,” International Review of the Red Cross No. 835 (30 October 1999):  531-553, available at

Margaret M. DeGuzman, “Crimes Against Humanity,” in Handbook of International Criminal Law (Routledge 2010), available at

Selected Online Resources:

Human Rights Watch: War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity, available at (providing an overview of recent international activity related to crimes against humanity).

Human Rights First: Crimes Against Humanity, available at (offering research relevant to crimes against humanity).