About the Working Group on Crimes Against Humanity
Along with other atrocity crimes (genocide and war crimes), crimes against humanity are among the most serious crimes committed under international law. As defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, specific acts like killing, torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, persecution, and other enumerated acts are considered crimes against humanity when they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population, whether as part of a conflict or during peacetime. Unlike genocide and war crimes, crimes against humanity do not currently have a dedicated international convention defining countries’ obligations for their prevention and punishment, despite a history of their prosecution in international tribunals since Nuremberg and widespread recognition of their prohibition under international law. And unlike many countries throughout the world, the United States does not yet have a domestic crimes against humanity statute and cannot exercise jurisdiction over perpetrators of these systematic crimes.
In 2014, the ABA House of Delegates adopted policyurging Congress to enact legislation to prevent and punish crimes against humanity. The policy also encouraged the United States to take an active role in negotiating an international treaty (an effort that has since advanced through the International Law Commission and is being considered within a UN General Assembly process). The gap in U.S. law was further noted by ABA Resolution 502 adopted in 2021.
The Working Group on Crimes Against Humanity was created by the Center for Human Rights in 2015 to support the goals expressed by these policies. Chaired by Ambassador David J. Scheffer and including a diverse group of contributing experts, the Working Group continues to build awareness of the gaps existing in national and international law on crimes against humanity, the resulting limits on effectuating justice for crimes against humanity as atrocity crimes, and to build the necessary support to address these issues through law.
ABA Policy and Advocacy on Crimes Against Humanity
Note: Additional ABA policy, letters and testimony can be found through the ABA’s Government Affairs page.
Resolution 300 (adopted at ABA Annual Meeting 2014): urges Congress to enact legislation to prevent and punish crimes against humanity and urges adoption of a new global convention for the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.
Resolution 502 (adopted at ABA Annual Meeting 2021): urges the United States to examine ways to more vigorously utilize existing laws and to modify its laws to promote effective justice and accountability for atrocity crimes and gross violations of human rights law committed abroad.
Resolution 605 (adopted at ABA Midyear Meeting 2022): urges the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to commit in principle to voluntary restraint in exercising their veto power with respect to resolutions proposing measures to prevent genocide, serious war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity.
- Ambassador David Scheffer and Kristin Smith, Congress Should Close the ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ Loophole, Just Security (Feb. 17, 2023)
Kristin Smith, Director, Atrocity Crimes Initiative ([email protected])
Kristin J. Smith
Director, Atrocity Crimes Initiative, Criminal Justice Section & Center for Human Rights
Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice Section