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Keys to identifying a crime against humanity

In the news, audiovisual programs and even in conversations between people, the term crimes against humanity is often used, without being clear about the crimes identified under this denomination and their differences with other types of punishable acts also of notorious gravity.

How to identify a crime against humanity

As established in article seven of the Rome StatuteIn order to be defined as crimes against humanity, they must be committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with full knowledge of the attack. This category may include: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or deprivation of liberty in violation of the fundamentals of international law, torture, rape, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, or any act of sexual violence comparable to such magnitude.

Likewise, it covers the persecution of a group or collective with its own identity for political, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender reasons; as well as the execution of crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, such as the forced disappearance of persons, the crime of apartheid, and other inhumane acts of a similar nature that intentionally cause suffering or seriously threaten the physical or mental integrity of a group of persons.

Attacks on civilian population and extermination

The Statute also delimits the concept of "attack on a civilian population" as a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of any of the above-mentioned offenses in accordance with the policy of a State or a particular organization.

For its part, the category "extermination" contains the forced imposition of living conditions that threaten the integrity and aim at the destruction of a group of people, such as the deprivation of food or medicine; while "slavery" refers to the exercise of property rights over a person or a group of people, which may include trafficking.

The "deportation or forcible transfer of a population" refers to the coercive displacement of the persons concerned from the place where they are lawfully present and without any law established in international law.

On torture

As for the definition of "torture", it will only be taken into account in cases where pain or suffering of great physical or mental magnitude is intentionally caused to a person who is under the custody or control of someone else. Persecution" refers to the deprivation of fundamental rights contemplated in international law and "forced disappearance of persons" refers to the apprehension, detention or abduction of persons by the State or political organizations without providing information on their whereabouts or living conditions, with the intention of leaving them outside the protection of the law for a certain period of time.

The category of "forced pregnancy" covers any unlawful confinement of a woman who has been impregnated without her consent, with the intention of modifying the ethnic composition of a population, undoubtedly affecting the norms of domestic law related to pregnancy.

War crimes, another type of crime

The Rome Statute also applies sanctions against so-called war crimes. In contrast to crimes against humanity that systematically attack a population group with the intention of destroying their living conditions, war crimes are committed in particular as part of a political plan.

Among the main crimes associated with this category are:

  • Intentional homicide.
  • Torture or inhumane treatment, including biological experiments.
  • Causing serious suffering or serious injury to physical and mental integrity.
  • Destruction and unlawful appropriation of property for military purposes.
  • Forcing prisoners to serve the opposing forces.
  • Deliberately depriving a prisoner of war of his right to a legitimate and impartial trial.
  • Deportation or illegal transfer.
  • Hostage-taking.

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