The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.


The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines “the crime of apartheid” as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them” (Art. 2 of Apartheid Convention). This Convention was adopted on 30 November 1973 by the General Assembly of the UN, entered into force in 1976, and today binds 109 States Parties.

Individuals, members of organizations, and representatives of the State, regardless of their motives and their country of residence, are held criminally responsible under international law, if they:

  • commit, participate in, directly incite, or conspire in the commission of acts of apartheid;
  • directly abet, cooperate with, or encourage the commission of the crime of apartheid.

The practice of apartheid and any other inhuman and degrading practices based on racial discrimination and involving outrages on personal dignity are considered war crimes if they are committed during an international armed conflict (API Art. 85.4). Apartheid is also considered a crime against humanity, as set forth in the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted in July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002.

DiscriminationInternational Criminal CourtWar crimes/Crimes against humanity

List of States Party to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (no. 27)

For Additional Information: Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. The United Nations and Apartheid, 1948–1994 . New York: United Nations, Department of Public Information, Blue Books, 1995.

Gibson, James L. Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation? New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.

Lemon, Anthony, ed. The Geography of Change in South Africa . Chichester, UK: Wiley, 1995.

Slye, Ronald C. “Apartheid as a Crime against Humanity: A Submission to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Michigan Journal of International Law (Winter 1999): 267.

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