In Photos: Israel - What is the crime of apartheid?

AFP , Tuesday 1 Feb 2022

As Amnesty International joins Human Rights Watch in formally accusing Israel of committing the crime of "apartheid" against Palestinians, we look at the legal definitions of the hotly disputed term.

File Photo: Palestinian laborers line up to cross a checkpoint at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. AP

South Africa

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

With laws covering almost every aspect of life from work and marriage to 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One of the most hated aspects of the laws -- which were not repealed until 1991 -- were the "pass laws", which placed severe restrictions on the movement of black people.

Opposed to South Africa's strict rules of apartheid, a biracial group of black and white students run from police in Johannesburg, as authorities disperse the crowd which was marching in the downtown area, June 17, 1976. AFP

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 institutionalised 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.


A Palestinian father stands with his children in front of the ruins of their home in Silwan, East Jerusalem, after it was demolished by Israeli authorities, November 8, 2019.

File Photo: Palestinian men walk by Israel’s security barrier separating Abu Dis and East Jerusalem, taken on February 16, 2021. AFP

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 dehumanising system of apartheid... trapped in a vicious system of state-sponsored, institutionalised discrimination".

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

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