Crimes Against Humanity

Crimes Against Humanity: Birth of a concept

Norman Geras
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 144
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Crimes Against Humanity
    Book Description:

    This book tells the story of the emergence of the concept of crimes against humanity. It examines its origins, the ethical assumptions underpinning it, its legal and philosophical boundaries, and some of the controversies connected with it. A brief historical introduction is followed by an exploration of the various meanings of the term ‘crimes against humanity’ that have been suggested; a definition is proposed linking it to the idea of basic human rights. The book looks at some problems with the boundaries of the concept, the threshold for its proper application and the related issue of humanitarian intervention. It concludes with a discussion of the prospects for the further development of crimes-against-humanity law. The work serves as a clear and compact introduction for students of politics, philosophy and law, as well as for the general reading public.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-461-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vi-xiv)

    The idea of crimes against humanity was born, formally speaking, at the end of the Second World War. It was one of three classes of offence – the other two being crimes against peace and war crimes – in the London Charter signed by the Allied Powers on 8 August 1945, and it made up Count Four of the indictment of Nazi leaders and officials before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. This much is a matter of generally agreed fact. Much else about the idea, however, is contested. It is a site of uncertain meanings and of disagreement over...

  4. 1 Origins and development
    (pp. 1-31)

    It is an important principle of the rule of law that there is no crime except under law, that is, except when an action is in breach of some obligatory norm passed or recognized as being one by the body or bodies with proper authority so to pass or recognize it. Most generally this has meant that crimes are crimes under one or another system of municipal law and, since the origin of the modern state, that the definition and the punishment of crime have been seen as being the business of the sovereign authority of the state. It is...

  5. 2 Why against humanity?
    (pp. 32-74)

    In this chapter I ask in what sense acts characterized as being crimes against humanity can be reckoned to be, indeed, againsthumanity. As we have seen, the category emerged formally at the end of the Second World War in connection with the trials of Nazi war criminals, and although its emergence was not just out of the blue but foreshadowed by the earlier developments within customary international law which I surveyed in the last chapter, its use as one of the headings in the Nuremberg Charter did have an accidental aspect. It was proposed only at a late stage...

  6. 3 A jurisdictional threshold
    (pp. 75-97)

    In Chapter 1 I traced the emergence of the concept of crimes against humanity from its inchoate beginnings in the literature and the instruments of international law to its official birth at the Nuremberg Trials. It is a moment of origin, this, that is seen by many commentators as being of revolutionary significance in the development of international law. In Chapter 2 I then examined the various meanings that have come to be attached to the expression ‘crimes against humanity’, and I argued for two of these as defining the core concept. Crimes against humanity, I said, (i) are offences...

  7. 4 Humanitarian intervention
    (pp. 98-112)

    We have seen in the preceding chapters that the concept of crimes against humanity implies a limit to state sovereignty. It is natural, therefore, that discussion of the concept, and especially of its beginnings, should make reference to an earlier tradition within international law to which that same limit is germane – I mean the tradition of humanitarian intervention. In fact, the principle of humanitarian intervention stands not only at the origin of the offence of crimes against humanity, but also on the other side of its arriving at maturity, so to say, in the Rome Statute of the International...

  8. 5 Utopia into law
    (pp. 113-130)

    Alain Finkielkraut has written that it was a purpose of the Nuremberg Trials ‘to bring the law to justice’.¹ One may express the same thing the other way round: the purpose of the trials was to bring justice into the law, the law of nations. It was to do so by making the demands of a universalist morality the basis of what has been called, in a related context, ‘a revolutionary legality’.² This is a vision of legal utopia: utopia, not as some unattainable state of perfection, but as a guiding practical ideal, one requiring that international law, just like...

  9. Appendix: Review of Larry May
    (pp. 131-149)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 150-159)
  11. Index
    (pp. 160-162)