Christopher Macleod and The Crimes Against Humanity:

Por Alfonzo


Christopher Macleod is a Lector in Political Philosophy in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at the University of Lancaster. Before take that position, he was a Teaching Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh.



“The principal difficulty in interpreting the term ‘crime against humanity (CAH)’ is the ambiguity of the word ‘humanity’. This word, of course, has two distinct meanings. It can be used to refer to the species to which we all belong: the human race, all human beings, the block of all humans. Yet it can also be used to refer to that thing which is common to the class of all persons, in virtue of which they are human: humane-ness, human-ness, within the spirit of being human. For the sake of clarity, let us label the first sense ‘humankind’ and the second sense ‘human-nature’.”

In the way exploring to Crimes Against Humanity, he had to think from different view points. The first one at “how we can think about the crime?”, from he made the first definitions about Crimes Against Humanity (CAH):


“CAH1:  an  action  is  a  crime  against  humanity  if  and  only  if  it  is  an  action  contrary  to  the human-nature of the perpetrator.”


In  CAH1,  the  wrong  of  the  crime  is  located  within  the  criminal’s  failing  to  meet    up to his own human nature. An act is here thought be inhumane because the perpetrator behaves in a way that ignores that he is himself a human being: his action is  sub-human.  There  is  a  symmetrical  wrong  to  inhumanity,  namely  dehumanization, which  generates  a  close  variant  on  CAH1.  Whereas  with  acts  inhumane  it  is the criminal’s own human-nature which has been disregarded in his performance of the action, with acts dehumanizing it is that of the victim. This sort of an action, the regarding of others’ status as humans, is embodied in CAH2.


“CAH2: An action is a crime if and only if targets the human-nature of the victims”


Completing the triad of possibilities as to where the neglect of human-nature must occurfor an action to be a crime against humanity, a meaning can be found referring not to the criminal or the victim, but to the onlookers.


“CAH3: an action is a crime against humanity if, in ignoring it, we would ourselves be acting contrary to human-nature.”


Under CAH3, the claim is that even overlookingthe crime is unhuman. Some crimes, the claim goes, are so extreme that they cannot under any circumstances be ignored by the outside world. To my knowledge, this has never been proposed directly as a definition of the crime, though it is instructively similar to another possible definition, which seems to capture a very similar thought and which has been taken seriously by many. In examining this definition, we turn to those interpretations which invoke the second sense of ‘humanity’ given above, to human-kind rather than human-nature. Here, as in CAH3, it is the onlookers upon the crime who are used to define it, though emphasis is now given to the fact that they constitute the species as a whole.


“CAH4: an action is a crime against humanity if and only if it is an action that shocks the conscience of human-kind.”


This meaning was called upon by Hartley Shawcross, the Chief Prosecutor for the UK at Nuremberg, who claimed that the individual ‘is not disentitled to the protection of mankind when the state tramples upon his rights in a manner which outrages the conscience of mankind’. The idea has been repeated by many, and a similar meaning is to be found in Black’s Law Dictionary. Bassiouni indicates that at least one aspect of a crime against humanity is that it will ‘shock the conscience of humanity’. Bassiouni also draws on another meaning, writing that ‘certain crimes affect the interests  of  the  world  community  as  a  whole  because  they  threaten  the  peace  and security of humankind’. We will label this definition CAH5.


“CAH5: an action is a crime against humanity if and only if it is a crime that endangers the public order of human-kind.”


Crimes Against Humanity, endorses CAH5 as a central understanding,  arguing  that  crimes  against  humanity  are  ‘serious  harm  to  the  international community’. Offering a minimalist Hobbesian account, he attempts to derive international norms to protect against the possibility that states would be in a state of constant warfare among each other that would resemble Hobbes’s “war of all against all”’. As individual criminal acts destabilize the order on which local public life depends,  so  international  crimes  destabilize  the  international  order. The  ‘international harm principle’ is necessary as an analogue of local norms of justice.


“CAH6: an action is a crime against humanity if and only if it is a crime that diminishes human-kind.”


This is not, I think, the sense in which crimes against humanity are usually taken to diminish human-kind, for thissense involves a change occurring as a result of the crime. A stronger and more interesting sense takes the sort of diminishment referred to in CAH6 as a blotting of the record of humanity, or as a secular parallel of the acquisition and transmission of original sin: a stain that all of us, even those with no substantive linkage with the atrocities, bear. In committing a crime against humanity, a fellow human being does something that tarnishes us all.


“CAH7:  an  action  is  a  crime  against  humanity  if  and  only  if  it  is  a  crime  that  damages human-kind.”


CAH7 claims that when thinking about crimes against humanity, the victim is properly conceived  to  be  the  whole  of  human-kind,  rather  than  individual  persons. A crime against humanity is defined to be, in a very literal sense, an offence committed against humanity as such.



“Towards a Philosophical Account of Crimes Against Humanity”


Conctacs with Christopher Macleod:


Tel: +44 1524 594280


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