Time for a crimes against humanity convention? Scholars say so

16 June 2015 by Benjamin Duerr, The Hague (The Netherlands)

While war crimes have the Geneva Conventions and international treaties criminalize genocide, torture and slavery, crimes against humanity have no dedicated treaty that prohibits states from committing them. Legal scholars are working to change this, and are in the final drafting stages of an International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Humanity.

Scholars and practitioners gathered at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the 2009 Experts’ Meeting of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative (Photo: Mary Butkus/WUSTL Photo Services)
Image caption: 
Scholars and practitioners gathered at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the 2009 Experts’ Meeting of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative (Photo: Mary Butkus/WUSTL Photo Services)

The draft has sparked a lively international discussion. Spearheading the debate is the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, launched in 2008 at the Washington University School of Law with the backing of prominent legal scholars, such as Cherif Bassiouni and William Schabas, International Criminal Court (ICC) judge Christine Van den Wyngaert and ex-prosecutor Richard Goldstone.

The UN’s International Law Commission, which oversees development of international law, is currently discussing the draft. In May, the commission’s special rapporteur for crimes against humanity presented his first related report. “Such a convention could help to stigmatize such egregious conduct,” Sean Murphy wrote. He argued that under the convention, offenders would be isolated and denied sanctuary as they would be in cases of genocide.

A case in point: since Omar al-Bashir’s Darfur genocide charges, the Sudanese president has faced major travel limits. In a gesture of defiance this past weekend, he attended the African Union summit in South Africa. By Monday, he had fled the country after human rights organizations mounted a legal case to force authorities to arrest him.

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