Law professor and international criminal lawyer Leila Nadya Sadat explains why she’ll ‘never give up’ in the pursuit of a global treaty to prosecute mass crimes taking place in Ukraine and around the world.

Crimes against humanity are among the worst international crimes. They involve widespread or systematic attacks on the most vulnerable members of society — civilians — and take various forms in different conflicts: murder, extermination, torture, deportation, sexual and gender-based violence, disappearances, apartheid and persecution. They afflict every region of the world — think of Syria, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Myanmar and Venezuela — and can be committed by states and private organizations, during wartime and during peace.

At the ICC, we have seen that the prosecution of crimes against humanity is critically important. Yet the ICC takes very few cases and can act only where it has jurisdiction.

Leila Sadat for a portrait

Seventy-six years after the Nuremberg trials that Ferencz and Harris conducted, there is still no global treaty on crimes against humanity, even though there are more than 325 international criminal law treaties on topics ranging from terrorist financing to the cutting of submarine cables.

None, however, except the ICC treaty with its various limitations, addresses mass crimes along the lines of what we are today witnessing in Ukraine and other places in the world filled with despair.