Crimes against humanity

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Crime against humanity is a criminal offense under international criminal law that is characterized by an extensive 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 trial against the main war criminals of the Nazi regime . The most important contractual source of law today is Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court . The criminal liability of crimes against humanity is also recognized under customary international law. Corresponding criminal offenses can be found in a large number of national criminal codes.

Development of the international law term

An important international law stipulation 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 Turkish government that these “crimes against humanity and against civilization” would be prosecuted after the end of the war. The term was legally defined and used for the first time in 1946 to punish the war crimes at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials ( see also: Genocide ). This procedure was controversial at the time, since according to the rule of law, only crimes can be prosecuted that are committed after the relevant law has been passed. This is to prevent arbitrariness in terms of punishment and definition of the criminal offense. The reference to the national prohibition of retroactivity in criminal law falls short here, as 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 level.

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

Since July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has been a permanent institution to prosecute these crimes. The ICC takes the legal principle mentioned above into account and is only allowed to prosecute crimes that were committed after the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into force (July 1, 2002).

Definition of the London Charter of August 8, 1945

“Crimes against humanity including: murder, ethnic extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts against the civilian population; or: persecution on the basis of 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 took precedence over their respective national legal systems. It formed the legal basis for the Nuremberg trials against the most important Nazi rulers imprisoned.

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 regulation lists a large number of individual acts (such as willful killing), each of which constitutes a crime against humanity if they are carried out in the course of an “extensive or systematic attack against the civilian population”. Unlike war crimes , crimes against humanity can also be committed outside of armed conflict . In addition, attacks against one's own civilian population are also recorded under international criminal law. The crime of crimes against humanity is broader than the crime of genocide . While genocide implies 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 the perpetrator to act deliberately and with knowledge of the systematic attack against the civilian population in relation to the individual offense .

Criminal liability under national law

German law

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


In 2001 the French Parliament ( National Assembly ) passed a law called loi Taubira . In that law, France recognized the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity. (The rapporteur for the law was Christiane Taubira ; she was Minister of Justice from 2012 to 2016).


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

  • "Crimes against humanity" are widespread or systematic attacks on the civilian population. In international law, they represent an umbrella term under which both “war crimes”, “ crimes against peace ” and “genocide” fall.
  • War crimes are criminal acts that are committed during an armed conflict and most of which are in violation of the Geneva Conventions .
  • As genocide the coordinated and scheduled destruction of a group is referred to by human, which "group" is defined by the perpetrators.
  • The National Socialists' plan to murder all European Jews during World War II is called the Holocaust .

On the terminology: “crimes against humanity” or “... against humanity”?

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

"The London Statute on which the Nuremberg Trials are based [...] defined the 'crimes against humanity' as 'inhuman acts', which in the German translation have become the well-known 'crimes against humanity'; as if the Nazis simply lacked 'humanity' when they sent millions into the gas chambers, truly the understatement of the century. "

See also


  • Bernhard Kuschnik: The entire offense of the crime against humanity. Derivations, characteristics, 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 the 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 offense of 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
  • Translator Reinhild Böhnke : Philippe Sands , return to Lemberg. About the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. A personal story. Fischer TB, 2009 (= 2nd edition)

Web links

Wiktionary: crimes against humanity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : crimes against humanity  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. UN, July 17, 1998, accessed May 19, 2019 .
  3. full text (French)
  4. ^ Holocaust and Other Genocides , International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  5. Eichmann in Jerusalem , Ed. 2004, p. 399.