How war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are defined

These notions are within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation on the situation in Ukraine on March 3.

How war crimes crimes against humanity and genocide are defined

War crimes, crimes against humanity, even “genocide”, as US President Joe Biden declared for the first time on Tuesday, referring to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, are very precise notions of international law.

They emerged after World War II, at the same time that the Nuremberg International Tribunal was implemented to judge Nazi crimes .

Those notions are at the heart of the powers of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 3.

They can also depend on national jurisdictions when they have powers in matters of universal justice, as is the case in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France or Switzerland.

war crimes

“War crimes” are defined as serious violations of international law committed against civilians or combatants in an armed conflict, and which generate the individual criminal responsibility of their perpetrators, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

These crimes correspond to violations of the Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1949, after World War II.

Its most recent codification is found in article 8 of the Rome Statute of 1998, the founder of the ICC.

This article defines more than 50 examples of war crimes, including murder, torture, kidnapping, use of child soldiers, illegal deportations, intentional attacks on civilians, rape, looting or intentional attacks on missions of humanitarian aid or peacekeeping.

The use of prohibited weapons that “cause useless suffering” or strike “indiscriminately” are also war crimes.

The ICC, whose headquarters are in The Hague, was created in 2002 and is in charge of judging these crimes as well as crimes against humanity and genocide.

Crimes against humanity

The notion of crime against humanity was created and defined on August 8, 1945, by article 6 of the statutes of the Nuremberg International Tribunal.

This crime is defined as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or any other inhuman act committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecution for racial or religious reasons”.

It was created retrospectively to try Nazi criminals whose crimes had not previously been imagined.

Now this notion has been codified in article 7 of the Rome Statute, which determines that crimes against humanity are acts such as murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts committed “in the framework of a widespread or systematic attack launched voluntarily against any civilian population.


The term “genocide” was used from a legal point of view for the first time in the Nuremberg trial to designate the extermination of the Jews.

It then became an integral part of international law in 1948 under the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

It describes genocide as a “crime committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Example of genocide convictions:

– In November 1994, the UN created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha (Tanzania) and four years later the ICTR pronounced the first sentences of life imprisonment, which constitute the first recognition of the genocide against the minority Rwandan Tutsi.

– The Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia, during which 8,000 Muslim boys and men were killed in 1995 by Bosnian Serbs, was recognized in 2007 as genocide by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Former Bosnian Serb political and military chiefs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were sentenced to life.

A new crime of aggression

In December 2017, the 123 member countries of the ICC (those that have ratified the Rome Statute, the United States and Russia have not) added the “crime of aggression” to the competence of international jurisdiction.

This crime typifies the attack on the sovereignty of a country by another country and allows the persecution of its leaders. (I)

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Written by Sapna Verma

Linguist-translator by education. I have been working in the field of advertising journalism for over 10 years.

For over 7 years in journalism. Half of them are as editor. My weakness is doing mini-investigations on new topics.

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