The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document for internationally recognized human rights, contains 30 principles or general statements about human rights. Subsequent treaties have translated these 30 principles into many specific rights. Among all these rights, some are said to be truly fundamental for a life with dignity.

The violation of these absolutely core rights is said to constitute gross or major violations of human rights. International law does not provide us with a set list of gross violations, but there is no doubt that genocide and crimes against humanity are on that list.

Clockwise from top: Displaced children from Myanmar, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Darfur region of Sudan

Swearing in of the prosecutor at the International
Criminal Court, June 16, 2003
The three most important international criminal courts, as well as the notion of universal jurisdiction all allow prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity (as well as for major war crimes, which are major violations of the laws of war).

The 1948 Genocide Convention as well as the Statute for the International Criminal Court both define genocide as:

"the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group."

Both treaties also include the following acts as genocide if committed with this intent:
  • killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,
  • inflicting on the group conditions of life meant to bring about its physical destruction,
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) defines
crimes against humanity as:

the acts of
  • murder,
  • extermination,
  • enslavement,
  • forcible transfer of population,
  • imprisonment in violation of international law,
  • torture,
  • rape,
  • persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity,
  • forced disappearances,
  • apartheid, and
  • inhumane acts which intentionally cause great suffering or serious injury when they are:
    "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack."

This module will highlight some cases of genocide and crimes against humanity that are often discussed in contemporary times:

For background information on how the concept of human rights evolved in the international community, visit the first module on this site, Foundation.

Human Security Report Project
Reuters Foundation: Emergencies
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
International Criminal Court (ICC)
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
Genocide Convention

This module was made possible with financial support from the Cooper Foundation.

              Module One
              Unit VI. International Implementation,
              Monitoring, and Enforcement
Module Two
Unit I. Myanmar