• Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

Explainer: What is the crime of apartheid?

  • Published at 03:03 pm April 27th, 2021
Israeli Troops
An elderly Palestinian man walks amidst clashes between demonstrators and Israeli security forces in the village of Beita, south of Nablus on March 23, 2021 AFP

Human Rights Watch has formally accused Israel of committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinian

After Human Rights Watch formally accused Israel of committing the crime of "apartheid" against Palestinians, we look at the legal definitions of the hotly disputed term

South Africa 

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation enshrined in law in South Africa and what is now Namibia from 1948 onwards to institutionalize white supremacy.

With laws covering almost every aspect of life from work, marriage, education, housing, and travel, it ensured the complete domination of the minority white populations over everyone else.

Its racial laws created a complex system of social classification based on skin colour, with whites at the top enjoying the highest status and privileges and blacks at the bottom.

One of the most hated aspects of the laws -- which were not repealed until 1991 -- were the "pass laws," which placed severe restrictions on the movement of black people.

UN creates the crime

The UN began labelling apartheid as a crime against humanity in 1966.

But it was not until 1973 that it formally declared it to be criminal with the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

The convention, which came into operation three years later, was intended not just to deal with South Africa but with similar discrimination elsewhere. 

However, it has never had its own court -- though one was discussed in 1980 -- and leaves it to states to prosecute on the basis of universal law.

No country -- not even South Africa -- has ever been charged with the crime of apartheid under it.

International Criminal Court

In 2002 the International Criminal Court defined the crime of apartheid in its Rome Statue, which has since been furiously contested by Israel.

It says it is a crime against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other... committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

It has yet to charge any individual or state with the crime.

Myanmar accused

Amnesty International accused Myanmar of apartheid in its treatment of its Rohingya minority in 2017.

It said the Rohingyas were kept "segregated and cowed in a dehumanizing system of apartheid... trapped in a vicious system of state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination."

The following year the UN called for Myanmar's top generals to be prosecuted for genocide over the 2017 massacres of the Muslim minority.

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