War Crimes vs Crimes against Humanity
War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity are both crimes against people in hostile situations, may it be intra-states or interstates. Nobody likes the thought of war, but the sad thing is war is a reality. Glaring examples are the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As with wars, there will always be casualties and it can never be avoided. There is also the possibility of abuse during times of war, and in the past, these abuses are sometimes left unnoticed. These acts of violence are more commonly referred to as war crimes. Other transgressions in conflicts that cause large-scale casualties, genocide for example, are still considered as war crimes, but they are aptly called crimes against humanity.
War crimes are defined as grave violations of the customary and treaty law with regards to international humanitarian law that are now considered as criminal offenses for which there is individual responsibility. It can also be defined as the breach of established protocols and agreements and the non-adherence to the norms of procedure and rules of battle. Mistreatment of POWs and civilians are examples of what is considered as war crimes. The first formal statements concerning war crimes were established during the Hague and Geneva Conventions but the earliest “international” tribunal concerning war crimes was held in the Holy Roman Empire in 1474. The definition of war crimes was further enhanced with the London Charter at the end of the Second World War, and this charter was used in the Nuremberg Trials. The London Charter also went on to establish the meaning of crimes against humanity, which was often committed during times of war.
Crimes against Humanity
Crimes against humanity are defined as any particularly horrible act that is part of a grave attack on human dignity or severe humiliation or degradation of one or more human beings. What is worthwhile to know is that these offenses are not isolated or sporadic, but is part of a government policy or that the government condones or ignores its occurrences. The persecution of humans based on their culture, race, religion or political beliefs also constitutes crime against humanity. A good example of it is the Holocaust. Isolated inhumane offenses of this nature may be categorized as violations against human rights or can be considered, depending on the situation, as war crimes, but may not exactly be considered as crimes against humanity.
Difference between War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity
Although these terms refer to acts that are made during times of conflict, the term ‘war crimes’ is a much broader term. Crimes against humanity refer to acts, before or during the war, that target a specific group of people, be it for their race, religion or political orientation that is condoned or even promoted by the government. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the regimes in Sudan, Congo and Sri Lanka are some examples of a government that condones or promotes these actions. War crimes, on the other hand, is basically any act that violates treaties of war or any act that does not follow normal procedures or protocols. The shooting of a surrendering enemy or the killings of civilians are examples of war crimes. There was no clear accountability for war crimes and crimes of humanity before the Nuremberg trials and as such, there was a need to clearly define the terms and set up the necessary rules to follow in times of warm thus the creation of the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal.
1. War crimes and crimes against humanity are terms referring to inhumane acts done during times of conflict.
2. War crimes and crimes against humanity are condemned by the international community and grave consequences are sanctioned by the United Nations to any country, or organization, which participates in these acts.
3. War crimes, however, is a broader term compared to crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity refer to acts of violence targeting a particular group for their race, religion or political orientation. War crimes can be any act of violence that may or may not fall in that particular definition.
4. Crimes against humanity must also be either a part of government policy or is being condoned or promoted by the government. War crimes, on the other hand, do not need to be condoned by the perpetrator’s government. As such crimes against humanity are usually attributed to the government or country as a whole, while war crimes can be attributed to a specific person.
5. The definition of crimes against humanity includes the period before the war. Germany in World War II, for example, committed crimes against humanity before the global outbreak of World War II in their acts of violence against the Jewish people. War crimes, by definition, only include acts done within the period of the war.