Journal Article

Reconciling Crimes Against Humanity with the Laws of War

Payam Akhavan

in Journal of International Criminal Justice

Volume 6, issue 1, pages 21-37
Published in print March 2008 | ISSN: 1478-1387
Published online March 2008 | e-ISSN: 1478-1395 | DOI:
Reconciling Crimes Against Humanity with the Laws of War

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If conduct is consistent with the laws of war, may it nonetheless constitute crimes against humanity during an armed conflict? Crimes against humanity initially emerged during the World Wars, in order to extend the protection of the laws of war to a perpetrator's co-nationals. This new category initially required a nexus with international armed conflict, but is now an autonomous concept based on human rights law that criminalizes large-scale atrocities in both war and peacetime. Crimes against humanity committed in armed conflict continue to be shaped by the laws of war. There is substantial convergence between the normative core of ‘non-derogable’ human rights and the minimum humane treatment standards in the Geneva Law. However, there is considerable divergence with respect to combat operations where the Hague Law applies as lex specialis, displacing certain human rights norms. ICTY jurisprudence demonstrates some of the instinctive tensions inherent in reconciling human rights with armed conflict. A notable instance is the Gotovina case, in which the Trial Chamber held that the laws of war do not apply to ‘deportation’ qua crimes against humanity such that there is no distinction between forcible displacement of civilians in occupied territories as opposed to combat operations. The temptation to dilute the laws of war through reclassification of conduct as crimes against humanity should be resisted because it does not necessarily result in increased protection for civilians in times of armed conflict. Utopian jurisprudence that disregards humanitarian law's realistic code of conduct in the name of progress risks making the law irrelevant to military commanders.

Journal Article.  7445 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law ; International Law

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