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Rewriting International Law: Why Crimes Against Humanity Should Not Be Left Behind

The United Nations recently set forth a resolution to draft a treaty addressing crimes against humanity. The International Law Commission, an arm of the United Nations, has been writing draft articles that will be the source of analysis and discussion in the months to come. An international treaty addressing crimes against humanity is essential, as no such treaty exists to encourage accountability for atrocities committed outside the context of armed conflict.

According to the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity are “acts of murder, rape, torture, apartheid, deportations, persecution, and other offenses committed as part of a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population based on a government or organizational policy.”[1]

There are already international treaties that address war crimes and genocide; however, crimes against humanity were omitted. A critical distinction between war crimes and crimes against humanity is that crimes against humanity can occur in the context of both armed conflict and times of peace. An international treaty that sets forth the obligations of member states to prevent and punish crimes against humanity has not yet been enacted.[2] The United Nations is attempting to rectify this omission to ensure crimes against humanity are condemned during times of peace as well as amid armed conflict.

International discussion about crimes against humanity and the draft articles can effectuate impactful change. A treaty addressing crimes against humanity would create a legal obligation for states that adopt the treaty to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.[3] A treaty of this nature would also highlight crimes that go unnoticed, and would provide an avenue for states to seek justice when a signatory to the treaty fails to uphold its obligations.[4]

The draft articles have sparked discussion among international legal scholars. Some note deficiencies and loopholes in the draft articles, and call for additional provisions, such as a prohibition on providing amnesty for individuals under investigation.[5]

Overall, this development signifies an important step in bringing to light in the international community crimes that occur on a daily basis around the world, and ensuring accountability for the people that perpetrate those crimes.

[1] UN Decision to Advance Crimes Against Humanity Treaty,

[2] Sean Murphy, Striking the Right Balance for a Draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity, Just Security, September 17, 2021,

[3] UN Decision to Advance Crimes Against Humanity Treaty,

[4] Id.

[5] Hugo Relva,  The Draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity Should Enshrine the Highest Standards of International Law, Just Security, October 24, 2021,

About the Author:

Teresa Detloff

Teresa Dettloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.

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