What are crimes against humanity?

The United States has accused Russia of committing them in Ukraine.

Marianna Vishegirskaya stands outside a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. Vice President Harris cited this as an example when she accused Russia on Saturday of committing crimes against humanity in its war in Ukraine. (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)
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President Biden on Tuesday accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine, a legal designation that implicates high-level decision-makers in widespread atrocities as Moscow’s war in Ukraine nears the one-year mark.

“They’ve committed depravity, crimes against humanity without shame or compunction,” he said in a speech in Warsaw. He accused Russia of “targeting civilians with death,” using rape as “a weapon of war,” stealing Ukrainian children and targeting civilian sites including schools and maternity wards.

Biden’s remarks followed a formal determination by the State Department and an announcement by Vice President Harris over the weekend that “members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine.”

Here is what you should know about the term and what the U.S. accusation could mean.