There are important commonalities between “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. Together with “war crimes”, genocide and crimes against humanity constitute the three established categories of atrocity crimes. Atrocity crimes are international crimes because they are exceptionally grave (heinous) crimes that “shock the conscience of humankind”. Being international crimes, atrocity crimes need not be specifically criminalized under domestic law for the perpetrators to be punished for their criminal acts. Those responsible for atrocity crimes may be tried and punished under the domestic legal system or internationally, by any other state or an international criminal tribunal as the case may be. Genocide and crimes against humanity are to be punished whether committed in times of peace or war while war crimes are, by definition, crimes committed in times of war.

Shock the conscience of humankind

Both genocide and crimes against humanity share the same historical roots originally being employed in connection to the most harrowing events of the “Holocaust”.  Normative developments in the aftermath of World War II have seen the emergence  of the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity as distinct categories of  international crimes.

Under international law, the term genocide is a legal term which applies to deliberate  acts (e.g. by killing, or by causing serious bodily or mental harm, or by imposing  measures to prevent birth) committed against a protected group with specific intent  to destroy the group in whole or in part. A protected group can be a national, ethnic,  racial or religious group. 

Download the full document: Explainer – Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity