Crimes against humanity offenses that are targeted against human dignity, it can also come in the form of humiliation and degrading treatment. That was how the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defined crimes against humanity. These kinds of crime are not sudden or individual actions, but are part of government policy as a systematic expression of its programs. Crimes like murder, rape, political persecution will only be considered to be crimes against humanity if they are part of the systematic program adopted by a group or a government. Human rights violation, no matter how grave and serious, would not fall into the same category if it was done as individual act or expression.
Historical Use of the Term
The term has been used in the 19th century especially in the United States. It was also used in the First World War in describing the Armenian Genocide which was supposed to have been carried out by agents of the Ottoman Empire. But the definition and the understanding that we have for Crimes Against Humanity would come from the period after World War Two when the officials of the defeated Nazi Germany was standing trial for what they have done in the years that they were in power.
One of the problems faced by the Allies in the Nuremberg trials is war crimes do not include the actions of a government against its own citizens. In the case of Nazi Germany, many of the Jews that they killed in the Holocaust were actually German citizens. They had to come up with a term that would include these actions.
Here are some of the crimes against humanity that the world has witnessed.
What is now Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire which in the beginning ofthe20th century was still a power in Europe although its influence was waning. Like other empires of that period, the Ottoman Empire had several ethnicities under its rule and one of those was the Armenians. The Ottoman rulers were Muslim and although the Armenians were guaranteed freedom when it comes to worship and religion, they were treated as second class citizens.
In 1915, while the First World War was raging the government of the Ottoman Empire created a plan that would rid them of the unwanted minority. The plan called for the systematic killing and forcing of the Armenians out of the Empire. There is a wide disagreement as to the numbers involved but many historians agree that at the time of the massacre, there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. After the massacre, there were 1.5 million Armenians who were killed and hundreds of thousands who were forced out of the country.
Many historians cite this as one of the more recent instances of genocide. In fact the term was coined to describe what the Turkish government did to the Armenians.
Holocaust comes from two Greek words which mean to be burnt whole. It describes an offering on the altar which is burned. After 1945, the word has taken on a new meaning. It has come to refer to the systematic murder of Jews in Europe that fell under the power of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany.
Even before Hitler started the war, his regime was treating the German Jews as enemies of the state. They enforced laws that made it difficult for Jews to do business inside the country. Soon, they were not content with that and they had the Jews shipped to concentration camps where they were used as slave labor. That was what they did to every country that they overran. The Jews were rounded up and shipped to camps.
When Germany attacked Russia, they tried a different approach. Together with the invading armies came special groups whose sole purpose was to exterminate the local Jewish population. Pretty soon extermination camps were also operating. Some camps would use the Jews as slave labors and then kill them off after they are unfit to work, but there were some that were purely dedicated to the business of extermination.
Hitler and his Nazi cronies called it the Final Solution. They considered the Jews to be the ultimate enemy of the German nation. In the end they were able to kill six million Jews in Europe, or two thirds of the total Jewish population in Europe at that time. Together with the Jews, the Nazis also murdered other “undesirables” such as homosexuals, Gypsies and political prisoners.
While the war was going on, there were few people who believed the atrocities. It was far too fantastic really to believe that a modern European state would commit a crime of such enormity. The world only realized how wrong they were when they discovered the death camps.
The Khmer Rouge was able to take power in Cambodia in 1975. It stayed in power until 1979 when it was driven away by the Vietnamese invasion of their country. During the relatively short period that the Khmer Rouge was in power, it was able to do one of the most horrific crimes against humanity in history.
From 1975 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed more than 1.3 million of their countrymen and had them buried in what would be known as the “Killing Fields”. Another million would die due to starvation and other things caused by the brutality of the regime. When the Khmer Rouge seized power they set out in cleansing Cambodian society. Anyone who was connected or was suspected of connection with foreigners were imprisoned and eventually killed. Intellectuals, professionals, members of other ethnic groups were also targeted.
The term Killing Fields was coined by Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who was able to escape from Cambodia and tell the world of what was happening there. His life was the basis of the movie and he was portrayed by another survivor, Haing S. Ngor. Today the Khmer Rouge is still unrepentant for the crimes that they did. Its leader Pol Pot never admitted that they did anything wrong. Very few members of its hierarchy were ever prosecuted for their crimes against humanity. Some former Khmer Rouge members are even serving in the Cambodian government now.
Rwanda is the site of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity in recent times. In a span of 100 days from April to July of 1994, over half-a-million was massacred. What is more horrific is the fact that the Rwandan government did nothing to stop the violence. In fact it even encouraged the massacre.
In the early 90s, Rwanda was an agricultural country that has one of the highest population densities in the world. The population was mostly made up of Hutus and Tutsis. The Tutsi controlled Rwanda for most of its history but in a rebellion in 1959 to 1962 the Hutu were able to seize power. By 1990 the Tutsi have organized the Rwandan Patriotic Front and was fighting the Hutu-led government. This started a civil war and raised the ethnic tension in the country.
As the war dragged on, extremists in the Rwandan government became more convinced that only desperate measures could be used in order to protect the country and their hold on the government. They created a plan for the wholesale slaughter of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. They used the assassination of leader of the Hutu government, Juvénal Habyarimana as an excuse to carry out their plan.
The killings were carried out by local militias that were organized for the purpose. The militia had the support of the national and the local government and the media. As the killing went on, the local Hutu population was also forced to take part in the killings. All Tutsis became target for murder regardless of sex and age. The women were also subjected to rape before they were killed. Hutus who were known to be moderates or friendly to the Tutsi were also killed. It was a systematic slaughter that gripped the whole nation.
The killing only stopped after Rwandan Patriotic Front was able to seize control of the government. By then there were hundreds of thousands dead. There is no way to know the exact number of people killed. Estimates range from 500,000 to a million.
Other Crimes Against Humanity
There are other crimes against humanity that has been committed and are being committed right now. The communists in Russia under Lenin and Stalin for example were said to be guilty of crimes that are just as bad as or even worse than the ones we have listed here. They say that they have murdered millions more of their own citizens and their enemies in camps. North Korea is also said to be guilty of starving its own citizens. There really is no way of knowing what the North Korean regime is guilty of because it is one of the most secretive states in history.
What these crimes prove is that man is guilty of so much inhumanity against their fellow human beings.