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The International Crimes Against Humanity Treaty

A Call to Action for Advocates

A new convention on crimes against humanity (CAH) is in its final draft stages, but most civil society groups — including women, LGBTIQ, disability, Indigenous, aboriginal, youth, caste, and racial and ethnic minority rights groups — have not weighed in. While the current treaty draft embraces strong language from the Rome Statute (which created the International Criminal Court (ICC)), including gender as a protected class from persecution, it also adopts an opaque definition of gender.

Civil society organizations have changed the course of history by organizing together to ensure that all human rights violations are taken seriously in key international documents. The CAH drafting process is moving quickly in the UN process, and now is a critical time to get involved.


We have submitted an open letter to the International Law Commission Members, signed by 583 organizations from over 103 countries. [ English | Chinese | French | Spanish | Arabic ]

The full legal submission is available here.

Where is the Progress on Gender?

The last two decades of international law have clarified that women's rights and LGBTIQ rights are human rights, making the gender definition contained in the Rome Statute opaque.

Strong convention language that complies with existing human rights law would be an invaluable tool for confronting impunity and enhancing state efforts to prevent and punish gender-based crimes. However, a text that does not understand gender could sideline women and other marginalized victims and result in even greater impunity for gender-based crimes amounting to crimes against humanity. 

Where is the Treaty Now?

The draft crimes against humanity (CAH) treaty was completed by the International Law Commission and has been preliminarily reviewed by the UN General Assembly’s 6th Committee.

Governments, experts and civil society organizations submitted comments by December 1, 2018.

MADRE circulated a sign-on letter asking other organizations to join our call on the ILC to update the definition of gender in the draft treaty. The letter was translated into five languages (English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese) and received nearly 600 organizational and academic sign-ons representing over 100 countries. HRGJ Clinic of CUNY Law School also drafted a legal submission calling for the definition of gender in the treaty to either be removed or revised and also calling for expanding the categories under persecution. Eighteen governments also made submissions to the ILC calling for the deletion or revision of the definition of gender. Additionally, several UN Special Rapporteurs and other experts joined to draft two submissions to the ILC. The first submission calls on the ILC to update the definition of gender; the second submission calls on the ILC to expand the grounds for persecution in the draft treaty to include: disability, Indigenous status, age, social origin, language, and migrant and refugee status. 

In addition to MADRE's open letter, there were at least nine other civil society submissions commenting on gender-related provisions in the draft treaty, including comments made by twelve trans groups and networks around the word, a submission by Human Rights Watch, a letter signed by about 70 human rights organizations in Africa, and joint comments by intersex groups. For example, civil society submissions called on the ILC to update treaty language concerning enslavementreproductive rightstortureintersex rights, and enforced disappearances

The fourth and final report of the ILC Rapporteur for crimes against humanity draft convention is slated to come out sometime in Spring 2019. Check back soon for more information.

Where We Stand: Progress on Safeguards for Gender Justice

This is a pivotal moment in history to broaden the discourse on gender and affirm our understanding of discrimination, including when based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. More importantly, we have real-world conflict situations, including ones involving militias like ISIS, where women, men and youth, including LGBTIQ persons, are being persecuted because of their gender.

Over the last two decades, international human rights law and jurisprudence have adopted language that accounts for the social construction of gender. Since its formation nearly twenty years ago, its understanding of gender-based persecution has never been tested, largely due to its opaque definition in the Rome Statute. What we do now will affect minority rights for generations to come. 

Download Our Toolkit for Advocates

Available in English, Spanish, French and Arabic

In November 2017, advocates filed a petition—the first of its kind—to the International Criminal Court. Filed jointly by CUNY Law School, MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), with help from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and OutRight Action International, the petition argues that the international community should prosecute ISIS fighters for crimes committed on the basis of gender, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

This is the first time the world has seen this kind of robust documentation of crimes against women and LGBTIQ persons for transgressing gender norms during an armed conflict. The draft CAH treaty offers a new opportunity to hold perpetrators of gender-based crimes accountable. To learn more about the ICC petition, watch the event held at CUNY Law School just before the petition was submitted: Prosecuting ISIS Crimes against Women and LGBTIQ Persons.

Click here to read Gendering the Crimes Against Humanity Treaty: A Timeline of Civil Society Intervention

What Can You Do to Support a Gender-Inclusive Crimes Against Humanity Treaty?

Stay Informed

For more information about the CAH treaty, click here.

For updates from the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, click here.

If you would like additional information or have any questions, please email:

Spread the Word

It is critical that civil society weighs in on the development of the new CAH treaty. You can help by sharing this toolkit and encouraging others to make their voices heard.

For more detailed information on how gender includes women and LGBTIQ rights under the Rome Statute, click here.