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War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide

Helping to investigate core international crimes that seriously violate human rights

About these crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) can prosecute individuals for core international crimes under international law. These include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

War crimes

War crimes are breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and of Protocol 1 (1977 amendment protocol) and serious violations of the laws and customs of war committed in an international or non-international armed conflict.

Offences include:

  • murder
  • mutilation
  • cruel treatment and torture
  • attacks against civilian populations or non-combatants
  • sexual or gender-based violence
  • deliberate population displacement
  • hostage-taking
  • pillaging.

The United Nations further explains war crimes.

Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity are acts committed systematically or widely against civilian populations during war or peacetime.

Offences include:

  • murder
  • extermination
  • enslavement
  • deportation
  • torture
  • sexual or gender-based violence.

The United Nations further explains crimes against humanity.


Genocide involves committing acts with the intent to destroy an entire national, ethnic or religious group of people. Genocide includes:

  • killing members of the group
  • causing serious physical or mental harm to the group
  • deliberately inflicting conditions to bring about the physical destruction of the group
  • implementing measures to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group.

The United Nations further explains genocide.

Offshore investigations

War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are core international crimes involving serious human rights violations.

Under Division 268 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), Australia has jurisdiction to investigate core international crimes that occur offshore. However, it is not usually practical for the AFP to do so.

If the country where the alleged crimes occurred is willing and able to investigate and prosecute, we will generally defer to them.

Investigating core international crimes can be difficult because:

  • the evidence is usually in an overseas jurisdiction
  • the crimes may have occurred in an ongoing armed conflict or hostile environment
  • the crime may have happened a long time ago
  • identifying and locating witnesses to obtain evidence can be difficult
  • foreign governments aren't always willing to help
  • not all countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions.

Investigating and prosecuting these crimes requires a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional cooperative effort.

Afghanistan Inquiry

We are working with the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) to investigate allegations of war crimes allegedly committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

In 2020, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force released the Afghanistan Inquiry report (the Brereton Report).

Since the report's release, the OSI and AFP have been working together to investigate allegations of criminal offences under Australian law related to alleged breaches of the international Law of Armed Conflict.

In March 2023, a New South Wales man was charged with War Crime – Murder under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) Division 268. This is the first war crime charge of murder to be laid against a serving or former Australian Defence Force member under Australian law.

These crimes could also potentially be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

If you have information relevant to the Afghanistan Inquiry,

contact the OSI

How to report

Report suspected war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by filling out our

Report a Commonwealth crime form