IL Newswire

What's the Difference Between 'Crimes Against Humanity' and 'Genocide?'

Although the two terms are theoretically very similar, it could be argued that there is a sociological conflict between the two. In an interview of British lawyer Philippe Sands by Robert Coalson, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent, Sands explains the difference between 'Crimes Against Humanity' and 'Genocide':

Crimes against humanity focuses on the killing of large numbers of individuals. The systematic, mass killing of a very large number of individuals will constitute a crime against humanity. Genocide has a different focus. Genocide focuses not on the killing of individuals, but on the destruction of groups. In other words, a large number of individuals who form part of a single group. And the two concepts in this way have different objectives. One aims at protecting the individual; the other aims at protecting the group.

The conflict between the two terms stems from the fact, as Sands puts it, that calling a mass murder 'genocide' reduces the importance of the individual victim. Doing so can be considered unjust, as people are human beings and therefore should be protected and/or given justice as individual human beings. Thus the argument for the term 'crimes against humanity,' as it stresses the humanity of each individual. Yet it could also be argued that people who become victims of mass murder specifically due to their ethnic, religious, or other affiliation really are victimized for being part of that group, and therefore this association cannot be ignored. In other words, they did not become victims simply because they were individual human beings, and so genocide is more appropriate.

The difference between the terms remains complicated, as both seem to be necessary in understanding international justice and yet they conflict with one another. As it stands, both are punishable by international law. Yet it is interesting that debates over international legal standards set decades ago can still be validly debated even today.

This interview was originally posted by The Atlantic.