horror, human rights and international law, justice, law

Human Rights and International Law (7): Crimes Against Humanity

purge of jewish teachers in nazi germany

This is from the infamous Nazi newspaper of Julius Streicher, Der Sturmer, from 1934. The cartoon praises the Nazi Ministry of Culture for removing Jewish teachers from German classrooms. Streicher was convicted at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity and hanged in 1946.

A crime against humanity is a large scale atrocity against a civilian population, such as genocide, ethnic cleansing or the massive killing of civilians during war, and is the highest level of criminal offense. It is either a government policy or a wide practice of atrocities tolerated, condoned or facilitated by a government. Atrocities such as murder, torture and rape are crimes against humanity only if they are large scale and part of a widespread or systematic practice organized or condoned by a government. Isolated atrocities are certainly human rights violations, and can perhaps even be war crimes, but they don’t fall into the category of crimes against humanity. (And acts which do not violate human rights can never be crimes against humanity, even if they are widespread and systematic and even if they cause suffering).

Crimes against humanity can take place during a war or in peace time, and can be committed by a state against its own citizens or against the citizens of another state.

I’ve tried to put these and other distinctions in a drawing:

types of crimes, crimes against humanity

Some examples of the meaning of the digits:

  1. lack of recognition or love
  2. corruption (although corruption, especially large scale and systematic corruption, can have consequences for human rights and should then be part of number 4)
  3. poverty
  4. murder
  5. crimes against non-combatants; torture of prisoners of war; the crime of international aggression (crime against peace)
  6. genocide, ethnic cleansing
  7. genocide or ethnic cleansing as part of the “war effort”
Standard

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