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New Law Library Report on Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes Jurisdiction

The following is a guest post by Constance Johnson, a senior legal research analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Constance has previously written on World Health DayWater Rights on Star Island, Law Relating to Refugee Rights – Global Legal Collection Highlights, her summer vacation on Star Island, and more.

The Law Library of Congress published a new report in the form of a chart displaying which countries have laws authorizing the prosecution of crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.  The chart indicates whether the possible prosecution is only of nationals of the country, or whether jurisdiction extends to foreigners who commit one of the crimes within the national territory, or even to foreigners who commit the crimes abroad. Including the United States, the chart covers 149 nations.  Of the countries surveyed (which all had laws on the subject) 39 countries have used these laws to prosecute individuals.

What are crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes, and how do they differ?

Genocide has been defined by the second article of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as including:

… any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [or]

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

War crimes, as the term suggests, occur during armed conflicts.  War crimes have no one definition and could include genocide.  The 1945 Charter of the International Military Tribunal, states in article 6 (b) that war crimes are:

… violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity; ….

The same Charter defines crimes against humanity in article 6 (c) as:

… murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

The differences between war crimes and crimes against humanity include the facts that crimes against humanity may be committed even in the absence of a state of war and that crimes against humanity are generally committed against civilians.

We invite you to review our report, the latest of many other multinational and single country reports available on the Law Library’s website.

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