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Difference Between War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

War CrimesIntroduction
Crimes against humanity and war crimes are not uncommon in times of conflict. Both of these crimes are usually perpetuated by warring factions in civil or interstate conflict. War crimes happen when there is the violation of established protocols that have been set forth by international agreements. All nations are expected to adhere to treaty laws in the treatment of citizens and prisoners of war during conflict. Crimes against humanity, on the other hand, refer to acts that include the degradation or humiliation of human beings. Crimes against humanity are usually planned by regional or national governments as a way of intimidating or eliminating a group of people within their jurisdiction.

Differences Between War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

War crimes, which may be committed during civil war or interstate wars, include summary execution, the exploitation of private property, torture, and the deportation of people against their will. The Geneva Convention’s Article 147 specifies that these acts are war crimes when they are committed in times of war (Richards, 2000). Crimes against humanity can be defined as the deliberate persecution of civilians on the basis of factors such as race, political beliefs, culture, or religion (Bassiouni, 1999). Crimes against humanity, which are often committed by government officials, usually result in acts of sexual violence, extermination, imprisonment, and human enslavement (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2016).

While acts of aggression within a conflict situation can only be considered to be war crimes when they reach a specific threshold, acts of aggression within any setting may be defined as crimes against humanity. For instance, if police reservists violently arrest protestors, their actions cannot be said to be war crimes. However, they may be accused of crimes against humanity.
War crimes define criminal activities that are committed in a broader context than crimes against humanity. War crimes happen in a conflict situation when there are large scale violations of international humanitarian law, and even customary practices which are locally perceived as legal obligations (IIP DIGITAL, 2007). In contrast, any criminal act can be a crime against humanity if it targets a specific group on the basis of political differences, gender, race or religion.

War crimes can be perpetrated as a collective effort by soldiers, or by sole army participants of any rank. In contrast, crimes against humanity are usually perpetuated due to supportive official government policy. If the regional or national government decides to target a specific religion, for instance, it could pass regulations that outlaw the practice of specific customs that pertain to the said religion. It could also incite other citizens against the adherents of the targeted religion. High-ranking politicians are often charged with crimes against humanity when there are acts of ethnic cleansing because they are the ones who are responsible for creating policies that support these actions (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2016).

There is greater stigma connected to crimes against humanity than war crimes (Bassiouni, 1999). For instance, many young and middle-aged Germans still regard the holocaust with disbelief and shame even though it happened before they were born. War crimes that were perpetrated by various armies during the same period, though, have all but been forgotten.


Essentially, the main difference between crimes against humanity and war crimes has to do with the circumstances in which these two crimes are committed. War crimes violate international agreements that dictate what human rights should be respected during armed conflicts. Crimes against humanity, on the other hand, are crimes that are perpetrated against groups of people on the basis of religion, race, political differences, and gender.

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1 Comment

  1. There is a very long answer to this question, but the simple, most straightforward difference is that war crimes are violations or noncompliance with established rules and procedures of battle. Crimes against humanity, however, are actions which violate the most basic human rights of others. To be sure, crimes against humanity can occur during both times of peace and war. By way of example, the current regime of North Korea has committed numerous atrocities against their own people during times of peace. The actions of N. Korea can therefore be described as crimes against humanity.

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References :

[0]Bassiouni, C. (1999). Crimes Against Humanity in International Criminal

[1]Law. Amsterdam: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ke/books/about/Crimes_Against_Humanity_in_International.html?id=MbiedpEFzbYC&redir_esc=y

[2]Holocaust Encyclopedia. (2016, Jan. 29). War Crimes Trials. Retrieved from


[4]IIP DIGITAL. (2007, Dec 7). Crimes Against Humanity Demand Justice.

[5]Retrieved from http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2007/12/20071208104510abretnuh0.3449823.html#axzz41VFiTj11

[6]Richards, J. P. (2000). War Crimes and the RCMP: Changing Investigations and Future Challenges for the Force. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 62(2), 30-33. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=186449

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