UNITED NATIONS –
A key U.N. committee took a first step Friday toward negotiating a treaty on crimes against humanity, which can be committed at any time, not just during conflicts.
The committee that deals with legal issues approved a resolution by consensus that would authorize its members to hold sessions in April 2023 and April 2024 to exchange views on draft articles for a treaty submitted by the International Law Commission, a U.N. expert body mandated to develop international law.
The legal committee would then take a decision on proposing a treaty during the General Assembly session beginning in September 2024, according to the draft.
The resolution’ now goes to the 193-member assembly where its approval is virtually assured before the end of the year.
Richard Dicker, senior legal adviser for advocacy at Human Rights Watch, said: “With rampant offenses amounting to crimes against humanity in recent months in countries such as Myanmar, Ukraine and Ethiopia, the movement towards negotiating a treaty to prevent these crimes is a positive though overdue step.”
While there are international treaties focusing on crimes of genocide, torture, apartheid and forced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said there is no international treaty specifically devoted to crimes against humanity.
Crimes against humanity have been defined by the International Criminal Court.
According to the rights group, they are acts of murder, rape, torture, apartheid, deportations, persecution and other offenses that are “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population based on a government or organizational policy.”
The proposed treaty submitted by the Law Commission in 2019 would require all countries that ratify it to include the definition of these acts in their national laws and to take steps to prevent them and to punish those responsible for committing crimes against humanity in their national courts, the rights group said.
The draft resolution states that the General Assembly is “deeply disturbed by the persistence of crimes against humanity” and recognize “the need to prevent and punish such crimes, which are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
Human Rights Watch said the resolution was delayed for three years by a small number of countries including Russia and China, but a new effort was made this year on a resolution to take a first step and they agreed to the consensus after several weeks of intense negotiations.
“A treaty prohibiting crimes against humanity will provide more protection for civilians and today’s decision is an advance in extending the rule of law at a moment when that very concept is under intense assault,” the rights group’s Dicker said.
To reach that goal, he said, “it will be crucial for supportive governments to ensure that civil society will be able to fully contribute to the deliberations over the next two years.”