Crimes against humanity
Crimes against humanity is an offense in international criminal law characterized by a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. The facts of the case were first laid down in an international treaty in 1945 in the London Statute of the International Military Tribunal created for the Nuremberg trials against the main war criminals of the Nazi regime. The most important source of contractual 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 term in international law
An important international law 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
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. During Genocide, the destruction of certain conclusively enumerated Grup