Genocide, crime against humanity, crime of aggression… The dictionary to understand what we’re talking about

War crimes, crimes against humanity, a crime of aggression and even genocide, said US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, April 12, a term whose use is dividing the international community. More than a month and a half after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, accusations of abuses against the Russian military are piling up. These accusations point to four concepts at the core of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation on March 3. These concepts were born in the aftermath of World War II, at the same time as the establishment of the Nuremberg International Tribunal that ruled on Nazi crimes. To fully understand what these terms cover, franceinfo reviews their definitions.

war crime

War crimes are defined as serious violations of international law, committed against civilians or combatants, during an armed conflict, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Premeditated murder, torture, inhuman treatment, destruction and appropriation of property, unlawful detention, deportation, taking of hostages… the many crimes that constitute war crimes occupy more than five pages in Article 8 of the Rome Statute.The treaty that established the International Criminal Court in 1998.

“All indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population, which must be protected, are war crimes.”Counsel Clemence Buckart summarizes, Which represents the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Alliance at the International Criminal Court. Civilian property, such as schools or hospitals, must not be attacked or bombed. In addition to deliberately starving civilians, not sending aid or forcing the population to flee: these tend to be war crimes.”she adds.

The use of gases or weapons that are generally prohibited and which may cause ‘Unnecessary suffering’ where “hit at random” Cluster bombs are also considered a war crime. The fate of prisoners of war in times of war is also subject to scrutiny. that theyIt should be treated well.”After Clemence Picart. Otherwise, it may be a war crime.

>> The war in Ukraine: We explain the idea of ​​a war crime

crime against humanity

This crime is defined as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and any other inhumane act committed against any civilian population, before or during war, or persecution on racial or religious grounds”, in accordance with Article 6 of the Statute of the Nuremberg International Tribunal. This concept was later codified in Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

“Crimes against humanity are crimes committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.”

Clemence Pickart, attorney

in franceinfo

The lawyer gives an example “Rape or acts of torture”murder, extermination, persecution, or any other inhumane acts, provided that they are It was carried out as part of an attack. “To talk about crimes against humanity, you need a chain of criminal acts. Crimes against humanity is defined as a type of plan or policy that is to attack the civilian population.”The lawyer explains.

>> The war in Ukraine: “It is still too early to say that the bombing of Kramatorsk is a crime against humanity”


The term genocide It was used, from a legal point of view, for the first time during the Nuremberg Trials to refer to the extermination of the Jews. Then the crime of genocide was created in 1948, by A UN convention, its definition has not changed since then. Identifies specific acts (mainly murders) committed in “Intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

So this narrow definition excludes many scenarios. “Genocide cannot target a political or cultural group”Explains Jan Guruvic, a public law lecturer at the University of Paris-Saclay, who has collaborated with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Moreover, it is necessary to prove “A policy that aims to destroy the group as such, just because it exists.” He remembers that a genocide whose recognition made it unanimous could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

“The simple test, to determine if it was genocide, is to ask if the victim had a choice. For example, the Tutsi could no longer choose not to be Tutsi anymore.”

Jan Guruvics, Professor of Public Law

in franceinfo

Thus, he finds that the crime of genocide does not fit into the Ukrainian context, because Russian discourse does not aim at “Biological group”But supporters of a political idea (whether real or not).

>> The Bucha massacre: Is it possible to talk about “genocide”, as the Ukrainian president says?

crime of aggression

It is the most recent of the four crimes he committed International Criminal Court Can investigate – added by the jurisdiction’s 123 member states, to its terms of reference andDecember 2017. The crime of aggression amounts to recognition of an attack on the sovereignty of a state by another state. by saying that “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution by an actual person in a position to control or direct the political or military action of a State, for an act of aggression.” which violates the Charter of the United Nations.

The crime of aggression is punished “A country crossed an international border militarily. This is what happened. The Russian government has not even denied that.”, commenting on franceinfo Jean-Maurice Ripert, Vice President of the French Association of the United Nations and former French Ambassador to Russia. With regard to the conflict sparked by Vladimir Putin, “apparent aggression”Rachel Lyndon, a lawyer at the International Criminal Court, abounds, questioned at France Inter, the aggression being “It is clear that she entered Ukraine”.

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