War Crimes vs Crimes Against Humanity: Difference and Comparison

As defined by the United Nations, a war crime is a significant violation of international legislation perpetrated against citizens or “enemy soldiers” during an internal or external military confrontation.


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Crimes against humanity are criminal offences during a large-scale assault on individuals of any ethnicity. Homicide, torture, sexual assault, slavery, oppression, and abductions are examples of these atrocities.

Key Takeaways

  1. War crimes occur during armed conflicts and violate international humanitarian law, such as targeting civilians or using prohibited weapons.
  2. Crimes against humanity involve widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations, regardless of whether they occur during war or peace.
  3. Both categories of crimes fall under international criminal law, and individuals responsible for these acts can face prosecution in international courts, such as the International Criminal Court.

War Crimes vs Crimes Against Humanity

War crimes refer to criminal acts committed during an armed conflict, such as targeting civilians, torture, or inhumane treatment of prisoners of war. Crimes against humanity are widespread and systematic acts perpetrated against a civilian population, such as murder or enslavement.

War Crimes vs Crimes Against Humanity

The phrase “war crime” has been hard to articulate precisely, and its application has altered frequently, especially after World War I’s conclusion.

Most war crimes are now punished by execution or long-term prison. Any war crime incident must be reported to the International Criminal Court to receive one of these penalties.

The notion of crimes against humanity, whether viewed as a judicial infraction or an ethical classification, presents the message that people who originate or obey governmental policy can be made liable by the world community.

It so changed conventional concepts of independence that protected government leaders and those who followed them.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonWar CrimesCrimes Against Humanity
Occurrence War crimes can happen during a military confrontation. Crimes against humanity can occur during peace, as well as during a military confrontation. 
CasualtiesOne single or specific act can be considered an act of war crime. Crimes against humanity are perpetrated against a particular group. 
ConsiderationOne single or specific act cannot be considered an act of crimes against humanity. This happens when two or more nations go to war. 
AttackThis is not a systematic attack. This is a systematic attack. 
ReasonThis happens when two or more nations go into war. This happens due to hatred for a particular community, sex, religion, etc. 

What is War Crimes?

A war crime happens when an opponent suffers unnecessary pain or misery. Regardless of the anger produced by the bombing of a classroom or a nation’s television network office, such activities do not always constitute war crimes.

Such bombardment will only be considered a war crime if the number of innocent fatalities caused by the strike is disproportionate to the military benefit achieved from it. 

War crimes are actions that are classified as primary global offences. Core international offences are some of the most serious crimes under international justice; instances include extermination, extrajudicial killings, and terrorism.

Throughout the decades following World War II, war crimes tribunals were firmly in the spotlight. 

They stopped being worthy of being in the news, except in rare cases, such as with the My Lai Massacre, and even then, many in the press did not consider it a war crime.

A large portion of our present knowledge of war crimes and their punishment is based on activities taken soon following World War II. 

Most war crimes are now prosecutable by execution or long-term confinement. Any occurrence of a war crime must be reported to the International Criminal Court to receive one of these sentences.

The court’s authority is based on a pact, and 108 different nations support it. If a person is killed due to a war crime, the perpetrator may face the death punishment.

war crimes

What is Crimes Against Humanity?

Crimes against humanity are specified criminal offences against the backdrop of a large-scale act of domestic terrorism of any background. Massacre, mutilation, attempted rape, exploitation, exile, and arbitrary arrest and detention are examples of these crimes.

Authorities worldwide frequently deny that crimes against humanity have happened on their land, dismissing their people’s misery. 

Thousands of tragic survivors continue to fight for long-overdue fairness, compensation, and acknowledgement. Many cases of crimes against humanity have occurred.

Furthermore, accusations for specific crimes against humanity are sometimes presented in connection with allegations for specific international crimes in a particular case. 

The International Criminal Database contains numerous examples of crimes against humanity.

Although there are numerous classifications of crimes against humanity in international law, they always require acts of physical aggression or harassment towards defenceless categories of individuals.

Because crimes against humanity are classified as global misdeeds, they are considered a deviation from the usual rule that nations have the sovereign authority to punish crimes perpetrated inside their boundaries or by their nationals.

Crimes against humanity can be prosecuted by authorities in nations other than the one where the abuse occurred and by international courts. Crimes against humanity are divided into two types of penal behaviour. 

Main Differences Between War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

  1. War crimes can occur during a military conflict, although crimes against humanity can occur during peace and military conflict.
  2. War crimes are committed against other countries as well as their population, but crimes against humanity are committed against a specific group.
  3. A single or particular act can be deemed a war crime, but a single or specific act cannot be considered a crime against humanity.
  4. War crimes are not systematic attacks, but crimes against humanity are.
  5. War crimes happen when two or more nations go into war, but crimes against humanity happen due to hatred for a particular community, sex, religion, etc.
Difference Between X and Y 2023 06 30T122154.868
  1. https://academic.oup.com/ejil/article-abstract/12/2/329/454081
  2. https://brill.com/view/journals/iyio/12/1/article-p123_.xml
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