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Apartheid refers to the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights. Apartheid is a crime against humanity punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 

The term “apartheid”, an Afrikaans word, derived from the French term “mettre à part”, literally translated to “separating, setting apart.” Apartheid is a policy that is founded on the idea of separating people based on racial or ethnic criteria. Usually, the separation operated by apartheid is exercised over geographical areas, putting one part of the population in an area separated from the others, or forbidding a group to access some areas solely based on their belonging to a race or ethnicity.

Apartheid policies include, but are not limited to: the prohibition of mixed marriages, banning a specific racial or ethnic group from access to certain meetings and unions, and the restriction of movement, prohibiting access to certain public spaces.

Apartheid was conceptualized in South Africa in the 20th century. Based on racial segregation, the South African Apartheid aimed to separate the minoritarian white population from the Black population, by designating areas prohibited to Black people. Starting in the 17th Century, in the context of colonization, European populations settled in South Africa and ended up recusing their European roots (from the Netherlands, France and Germany) in order to claim their Africanity.

The racially discriminatory motivated apartheid in South Africa lasted until international sanctions emerged, imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) (such as binding embargoes on the sale of weapons) or the rupture of diplomatic relations.

In South Africa, the movement against the Apartheid led by Nelson Mandela resulted in the very recent abolition of Apartheid in the 1990s.

Nonetheless, Apartheid is not considered an antiquated regime: several human rights organizations highlighted that Apartheid regimes and policies currently live on in certain areas of the world. Amnesty International has reported that Israeli authorities, by prohibiting Palestinians from entering certain areas through military checkpoints, roadblocks and fences, and controlling the movement of Palestinians within the Occupied Palestinian Territories along with restricting their national and international travel, impose an Apartheid regime.

[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]