What are crimes against humanity?

Crimes against humanity refer to specific crimes committed in the context of a large-scale attack targeting civilians, regardless of their nationality. These crimes include murder, torture, sexual violence, enslavement, persecution, enforced disappearance, etc.

Crimes against humanity have often been committed as part of State policies, but they can also be perpetrated by non-State armed groups or paramilitary forces. Unlike war crimes, crime against humanity can also be committed in peacetime, and contrary to genocide, they are not necessarily committed against a specific national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

Crimes against humanity under international law

Crimes against humanity appeared for the first time in a treaty in the 1945 Nuremberg Charter at the end of the Second World War, albeit with a different definition than today.

Since the 1990s, crimes against humanity have been codified in different international treaties such as the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993), the Statute of the International Tribunal for Rwanda (1994) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998). The Rome Statute provides the most recent and most expansive list of specific criminal acts that may constitute crimes against humanity.

Unlike other human rights violations, war crimes do not engage State responsibility but individual criminal responsibility. This means that individuals can be tried and found personally responsible for these crimes.

Prohibited acts include:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
    Deportation or forcible transfer of population
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Sexual violence
  • Persecution against an identifiable group
  • Enforced disappearance of persons
  • The crime of apartheid
  • Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Art. 7


TRIAL International tackles crimes against humanity

Governments around the world often deny that crimes against humanity have occurred on their territory, thus ignoring the suffering of their people. Thousands of desperate victims are still struggling to get long-waited justice, reparation and recognition.

Helping the victims

TRIAL International helps victims to get their voice heard by bringing their cases before domestic courts, as well as before regional and international human rights mechanism like the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights. The organization provides free legal support to victims, from the preparation and submission of their case, to the proceedings and the implementation of the decisions on the ground.

Prosecuting the perpetrators

TRIAL International fights impunity by filing criminal and compensation claims against perpetrators of crimes against humanity. These complaints are brought before international bodies, and before national courts thanks to the principle of universal jurisdiction. TRIAL also pushes national justice systems to investigate situations and prosecute the perpetrators of mass atrocities.