Crimes against humanity

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Crimes against humanity is an offense in international criminal law characterized by a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population . The offense was first laid down in an international treaty in 1945 in the London Statute of the International Military Tribunal created for the Nuremberg trials of the main war criminals of the Nazi regime . The main source of treaty law today is Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court . The criminal liability of crimes against humanity is also next to itrecognized by customary international law. Corresponding criminal offenses can be found in a large number of national criminal codes.

Development of the concept of international law

An important international legal setting was the condemnation of the genocide of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire on May 24, 1915 in a protest note by the Triple Entente ; England, France and Russia threatened the Young Turk government that these "crimes against humanity and against civilization" would be prosecuted after the end of the war. Legally, the term was first defined and used in 1946 to punish war crimes at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials ( see also: genocide ). This procedure was controversial at the time, since according to the principles of the rule of law only crimes committed after the corresponding law was passed can actually be prosecuted. This is intended to prevent arbitrariness in the punishment and definition of the criminal offence. The reference to the nation-state prohibition of retroactive effect in criminal law falls short here, since the Nuremberg tribunal referred to international law and referred to international treaties and obligations that had been violated or ignored by the Nazi regime on an international scale.

In the Nuremberg trials as well as in several statements by the United Nations , the mass extermination in concentration camps was and is judged to be a "crime against humanity". Since the "industrial killing of people" ( Hannah Arendt ) was not exclusively aimed at those of Jewish descent, it was not a question of genocide, but a crime against humanity.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has existed since July 1, 2002 as a permanent institution for the prosecution of these crimes. The ICC respects the above legal principle and can only prosecute crimes committed after the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (July 1, 2002).

Definition of the London Charter of 8 August 1945

“Crimes against humanity, including but not limited to: murder, ethnic extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts against the civilian population, or: persecution based on racial, political and religious motives; regardless of whether national law has been violated.”

With the London Charter , the Allies agreed on a common criminal law that was superior to their respective national legal systems. It formed the legal basis for the Nuremberg trials against the most important captured Nazi rulers.

Definition in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Article 7 of the Rome Statute , which came into force in 2002 as the legal basis of the International Criminal Court , defines the term "crimes against humanity" in detail. The provision lists a variety of individual acts (such as premeditated homicide), each of which constitutes a crime against humanity when committed in the context of a "widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population." Unlike war crimes , crimes against humanity can also be committed outside of armed conflict . Attacks against the country's own civilian population are also recorded under international criminal law. The offense of crimes against humanity is broader than the offense of genocide . While genocide involves the destruction of certain exhaustively enumerated groups (national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups), crimes against humanity can be committed against any civilian population. From a subjective point of view , it is necessary for a perpetrator to act intentionally with regard to the individual act and with knowledge of the systematic attack against the civilian population.

Criminal liability under national law

German law

In German criminal law , according to Section 7 of the International Criminal Code (VStGB) , crimes against humanity are punishable everywhere and by anyone and against anyone ( universal legal principle , see Section 1 of the VStGB). The application is significantly restricted by the expression of the opportunity principle in Section 153f of the Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO). In particular, prosecution can be waived if the crimes against humanity are being prosecuted before an international court of justice or by a state on whose territory the crime was committed, whose relative is suspected of the crime, or whose relative was injured by the crime “.


In French criminal law, the concept of crimes against humanity ( French Crimes contre l'humanité ) did not exist until the 1960s. This only changed on December 26, 1964 with a law that declared that crimes against humanity were not subject to a statute of limitations. It consisted of a single article and referred to the London Charter of 1945 to define the term. War crimes as such were not covered by the article.

Only since the entry into force on March 1, 1994 of a new penal code passed in 1992 has French law itself defined the concept of crimes against humanity. Since then, the offenses that France regards as crimes against humanity form the beginning of the list of crimes in the French Penal Code, the Code pénal (Article 211-1 and following). This list is headed by genocide , which is explicitly distinguished from "other crimes against humanity". For the first time, crimes against members of resistance groups such as the French Résistance were also explicitly counted among these. In addition, French law requires the existence of a concerted plan under which an act must have been committed in order to be considered a crime against humanity; this aspect played only a minor role in the 1945 London definition.

In 2001, the French Parliament ( National Assembly ) passed a law called loi Taubira recognizing slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity. Rapporteur for the law was the future Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira .


"Crimes against humanity", "war crimes", "genocide" and "Holocaust" are often incorrectly used as synonyms. The first three terms are legal terms that are also scientific categories.

  • "Crimes against humanity" are widespread or systematic attacks on civilian populations. In international law, they represent a generic term that includes both “war crimes”, “ crimes against peace ” and “genocide”.
  • War crimes are criminal acts committed during an armed conflict that violate, in particular, the Geneva Conventions .
  • Genocide is the coordinated and planned destruction of a group of people, with that "group" being defined by the perpetrators.
  • The plan of the National Socialists in World War II to murder all European Jews is called the Holocaust .

As for the terminology: "crimes against humanity" or "...against humanity"?

The English term humanity can be translated with humanity as well as with mankind . Among other critics, Karl Jaspers and Hannah Arendt considered the official and customary translation Crimes Against Humanity to be a euphemism and spoke of crimes against humanity . Arendt wrote about this in her book on the Eichmann trial in 1963:

“The London Statute on which the Nuremberg trials are based [...] defined the 'crimes against humanity' as 'inhuman acts', which then became the well-known 'crimes against humanity' in the German translation; as if the Nazis had merely failed in 'humanity' when they sent millions to the gas chambers, truly the understatement of the century.”

See also


  • Bernhard Kuschnik: The overall facts of the crime against humanity. Derivations, forms, developments. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2009 ISBN 978-3-428-13038-2 .
  • Raoul Muhm: Germania: La rinascita del diritto naturale ei crimini contro l'umanità. Vecchiarelli Ed. Manziana, Roma 2004 ISBN 88-8247-153-5 .
    • German Germany: The renaissance of natural law and crimes against humanity.
    • English Germany: The renaissance of natural law and crimes against humanity.
  • Daniel Marc Segesser: The historical roots of the term "crimes against humanity". In: Institute for Contemporary Legal History Hagen: Yearbook of Contemporary Legal History, 8th 2006/2007 ISBN 978-3-8305-1471-8 pp. 75-101 (Google Books) .
  • Stephan Meseke: The crimes against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An analysis of international criminal law. 2004 ISBN 978-3-8305-0884-7 .
historical-political novel
  • Transl. Reinhild Böhnke : Philippe Sands , return to Lemberg. About the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. A personal story. Fischer TB, 2009 (=2nd ed.)

web links

Wiktionary: Crimes against humanity  - definitions of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations
Commons : Crimes against humanity  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. UN, July 17, 1998, retrieved May 19, 2019 .
  3. a b Michel Massé : L'évolution de la notion de crimes contre l'humanité . In: Jean-Paul Jean , Denis Salas (eds.): Barbie, Touvier, Papon... Des procès pour la mémoire (=  Collection Mémoires . Volume 83 ). Autrement, Paris 2002, ISBN 2-7467-0263-0 , pp. 122–135 , doi : 10.3917/autre.salas.2002.01.0122 (French, ).
  4. full text (fr.)
  5. Holocaust and Other Genocides , International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  6. Eichmann in Jerusalem , edition 2004, p. 399.