Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Crimes Against Humanity Definition:

An international criminal justice offence; the perpetration of acts of war upon a civilian, non-soldier population.

Related Terms: War Crimes, Genocide, Principle of Humanity

A term used by, within and as so defined by the International Criminal Court treaty and including any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

  • Murder;
  • Extermination;
  • Enslavement;
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  • Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
  • Torture;
  • Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, (...) or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law (...)
  • 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.

Adoph HitlerThe treaty definition includes the following points of clarification:

  • ‘Attack directed against any civilian population’ means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts ... against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack;
  • ‘Extermination’ includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population;
  • ‘Enslavement’ means the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children;
  • ‘Deportation or forcible transfer of population’ means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law;
  • ‘Torture’ means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions
  • ‘Forced pregnancy’ means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy;
  • ‘Persecution’ means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;
  • ‘The crime of apartheid’ means inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime; and
  • ‘Enforced disappearance of persons’ means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.

Some countries have enacted domsetic crimes against humanity legislation, such as Canada and the USA.

The Canadian Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act defines "crimes against humanity" as:

"... murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution or any other inhumane act or omission that is committed against any civilian population or any identifiable group and that, at the time and in the place of its commission, constitutes a crime against humanity according to customary international law or conventional international law or by virtue of its being criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations, whether or not it constitutes a contravention of the law in force at the time and in the place of its commission."

Historically, war was considered a blatant spite of law and historically, it was taken for granted that no rule of law applied during war and that as such, it was no crime to attact a cicvilian population.

It was the awareness of actions of several politicians and commanders-in-chief of their respective governments, such as Adolph Hitler's (shown), that brought the world to define crimes against humanity and to try to limit the horror of war as upon and between professional soldiers only.


  • Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ¶7 (1998-2002)
  • Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act ( 2000, Chapter 24, ¶4)
  • See also the US Code, Title 18 re "genocide".


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