Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Shifting Focus: The ICC looks to Prosecute Environmental Crimes

Jasmine Pope

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created as a result of the Rome Statute. The ICC was not set up to replace domestic court systems. Instead, the ICC serves to complement domestic criminal systems, only prosecuting cases when States, countries that are party to the Rome Statute, are unable or unwilling to do so.[i]

What does the ICC do? How does it work?

The Rome Statute grants the ICC jurisdiction over four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.[ii] Genocide requires “specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means.”[iii] Examples of genocide include the Rwandan Genocide, the Holocaust, and the Situation in Darfur. The ICC prosecutes fifteen forms of crimes against humanity, including sexual slavery, murder, enforced disappearances, apartheid, rape, and murder, which are “serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against any civilian population.”[iv] War crimes are considered to be violations of the Geneva conventions. Crimes of aggression are the “use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another State.”[v] The ICC only prosecutes individuals that commit any of the crimes over which it has jurisdiction. The ICC does not prosecute States.

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A Landmark Policy Decision

On Thursday, September 15, 2016, the ICC made a huge announcement. The ICC will broaden its focus to include environmental crimes.[vi] In the policy paper published by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC, the OTP stated that “the Office will seek to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct which constitutes a serious crime under national law, such as the illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms, trafficking, human terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or the destruction of the environment.”[vii] This is a big deal. For decades, the scientific community and activists have talked about climate and environmental change. But let’s be clear here: the ICC is not expanding its jurisdiction—it is simply assessing existing offences in a much broader context.[viii]

Environmental destruction and environmental issues have been a hot topic in recent years. Environmental issues and concerns deal with more than just cutting down trees in rainforests, since so much of our environment is affected by our daily actions. But it goes beyond the rainforest. Many of the situations currently under investigation by the ICC, where crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed, destruction of the environment is also an element. Warlords do not just magically come into a town or village, kill a few people, and then move on. No, they destroy the towns they come across. It is even possible that the actions of Royal Dutch Petroleum in the Niger Delta could be investigated by the ICC through their now broadened scope of jurisdiction.

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While the ICC usually prosecutes warlords, this decision opens the door for business executives, government officials, and heads of corporations to face the music, so to speak. No more outsourcing work to poor, undeveloped nations without a second thought as to the environmental consequences. The ICC can now start “holding corporate executives accountable for large-scale land grabbing and massive displacement happening during peace time.”[ix]

What Does it all Mean?

Can the ICC not only talk the talk: can it also walk the walk? That is the billion-dollar question. Instances of land-grabbing have plagued the world for decades, particularly in Africa, and in underdeveloped nations in Asia. Land grabbing deals with large-scale land acquisitions by governments and individuals, as well as domestic and international companies.[x] While land grabbing itself may not be a crime that the ICC can prosecute, the consequences of land-grabbing falls under the realm of crimes against humanity that the ICC can prosecute.

The international community is already speculating that Cambodia is the perfect place for the ICC to shift its focus.[xi] International lawyer with the international criminal law firm Global Diligence, Richard Rogers, has already filed a case with the ICC on behalf of ten Cambodian citizens. The complaint alleges that the country’s ruling elite “including government and military, has perpetuated mass rights violations since 2002 in pursuit of wealth and power by grabbing land and forcibly evicting up to 350,000 people.”[xii] If the ICC does choose to investigate the situation in Cambodia, it will be interesting to see who the ICC files charges against as having committed crimes against humanity. Does the ICC look to charge governmental officials? Does the ICC look to charge business executives? Who will the ICC deem responsible for the situation in Cambodia if they find they have jurisdiction?

 

This new expanding view of the ICC could open the door to prosecutions over climate change, in addition to land grabbing.[xiii]According to an ICC member who worked on the policy document, this decision allows for the ICC to “[exercise its] jurisdiction by looking at the context in which crimes are committed.”[xiv] Companies, government officials, business executives, and individuals must now think long and hard about their activities in certain countries, i.e. those that are party to and have accepted the jurisdiction the ICC. The ICC is watching, and so is the rest of the world.

Jasmine Pope is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore. She graduated from Towson University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a minor in History. Jasmine is extremely interested in and passionate about international human rights, particular the rights of women and children. She also participated in the Summer Study Abroad Program in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has also studied abroad in Benalmádena, Spain. Currently, she serves as the Secretary for the International Law Society. Jasmine is currently a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Team. Jasmine is also a Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law and works for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.

[i] https://www.icc-cpi.int/about/how-the-court-works.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Brittany Felder, “ICC to focus on environmental crimes”, Jurist, September 16, 2016, http://www.jurist.org/paperchase/2016/09/icc-to-focus-on-environmental-crimes.php.

[vii] https://www.icc-cpi.int/itemsDocuments/20160915_OTP-Policy_Case-Selection_Eng.pdf.

[viii] John Vidal and Owen Bowcott, “ICC widens remit to include environmental destruction cases,” The Guardian, September 15, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/sep/15/hague-court-widens-remit-to-include-environmental-destruction-cases.

[ix] Chris Arsenault, “International court to prosecute environmental crimes in major shift,” Reuters, September 15, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-landrights-icc-idUSKCN11L2F9.

[x] Stop Africa Land Grab, http://www.stopafricalandgrab.com/.

[xi] Vidal and Bowcott, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/sep/15/hague-court-widens-remit-to-include-environmental-destruction-cases.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

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The War on Culture

Kia Roberts-Warren

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares,” (Irina Bokova, head of UNSECO).[1]

The destruction and looting of art is a widespread and systematic attack to erase people’s memories and identities. The Nazis destroyed and looted hundreds and thousands of books, art, and other cultural relics.[2] Paintings were vandalized during the armed conflict between Macedonia and the National Liberation Army[3] The siege of Dubrovnik, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library during the Yugoslav wars.[4]

Terrorist organizations have put destruction of cultural heritage back on the war agenda. Since ISIS’ has taken over territory in Syria and Iraq, they have destroyed and looted numerous World Heritage Sites that the group deems idolatrous and blasphemous.[5] A World Heritage Site is determined by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is defined as “belonging to all peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”[6] By historical standards, ISIS’ actions in Iraq are “on a rampage of destruction not seen since the Mongol’s sacking of Baghdad in 1258.”[7]

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Temple of Bel (or Baal) in Syria. The Temple was one of the main attractions Palmyra, a Roman-era trading outpost in the desert, northeast of Damascus, Syria

In Syria, ISIS has destroyed the ancient cities of Palmyra, Mar Elian Monastery, Apamea, Dura-Europos, and Mari.[8] In Iraq, ISIS has destroyed the oldest Christian monastery (Dair Mar Elia), Assyrian Empire artifacts in the Mosul Museum, Nineveh archeological site, razed the Tomb of Jonah and other religious sites, Nergal Gate (an entrance to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, where the men use power tools to destroy a pair of massive statues of winged bulls with a human heads), and the Nimrud archaeological site.[9]

Moreover, the Sunni Muslim library, the Mosul Museum Library, and the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers have also been heavily damaged. These libraries contained collections from the Ottoman Empire, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and other ancient texts were burned in the streets.[10] Irina Bokova stated that it was “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”[11] (You can see video here)

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A member of ISIS destroying an ancient Assyrian lamassu (screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video)

Intelligence officials say looting is the terror group’s second largest source of income after oil.[12] ISIS encourages civilians to plunder historic sites and then charges a 20 percent tax on anything they sell.

Last February the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution, UNSCR 2199, which was drafted by Russia and co-sponsored by the United States.[13] The Resolution prohibits the trade of artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990.[14] The UN General Assembly, also, passed a resolution called “Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq,” which states that ISIS’ actions may amount to war crimes as well as details about ISIS’s attacks on cultural heritage sites and demands its members be stopped and held accountable.[15]

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In the wake of ISIS’ cultural destruction, Italy has teamed up with UNESCO to create a task force.[16] This task force called The Peacekeepers of Culture, will be a 60-person team of art detectives from the art-squad police from Italy’s Carabinieri military police, historians, and Italian-trained restoration experts.[17] The goals of the peacekeepers are to protect ancient artworks, artifacts, and archaeological sites in conflict zones from extremists, protect against “cultural cleansing” and the fear-mongering propaganda, and to cut off some of the Islamic State’s funds acquired through the sale of looted artifacts, statues, and other antiquities on the black market.[18] It will establish facilities in Turin, where it will train cultural heritage protection experts. It aims to “assess risk and quantify damage done to cultural heritage sites, develop action plans and urgent measures, provide technical supervision and training for local national staff,” as well as help move some objects to safety.[19] The task force has not chosen a country for its first mission but is ready to go where UNESCO sends them.[20]

In April 2013, the Smithsonian Institute created the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI) Project. It provides emergency preservation work, conservation materials, and training to Syrian and Iraqi museums to help salvage damaged collections and sites.[21] In the summer of 2014, SHOSI held an emergency workshop in Syria. One of the missions was to provide equipment and supplies for workshop participants to secure the immovable mosaics collection at the Ma’arra Museum in Idlib Province. This museum housed one of the most important collections of third-to-sixth century Roman and Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East.[22]

This may seem to be weak enforcement on the part of the international community. However, destruction of art is as war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 8 (2)(b)(ix) states: “Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives.”[23]

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Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

The ICC is currently hearing its first ever war crime trial addressing the destruction of cultural heritage.[24] Malian Jihadi leader, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is accused of destroying ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu, specifically, medieval shrines, tombs of Sufi Saints, a 15th century mosque and over 4,000 ancient manuscripts were lost or destroyed all which were considered World Heritage sites.[25] This case is considered to be an important case at the ICC in fighting against war crimes directed at cultural heritage.[26] The last time a case like this was brought to trial was in 2013 when Balkan warlords were charged with the shelling Dubrovnik in the early 1990s, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[27]

When we think of atrocious crimes committed by ISIS, destruction of art and cultural sites are not on the list. We think of targeting civilians, rape, and general pillage. However, it is important because these sites aren’t just the destruction of Iraqi or Syrian history, but, rather history that belongs to the world. These artifacts and sites cannot be repaired or replaced. Once they are destroyed, they are gone completely. To let them perish at the hands of terrorists cannot go unpunished or unnoticed any longer.

Kia Roberts-Warren is a 2l at UB Law. She is concentrating in international law and business law. Kia graduated from Temple University receiving a BA in East Asian Studies during that time she spent a semester in Tokyo, Japan. Kia has an interest in private international law particularly trade and business as well as public international law. She also interested in fashion law and art law in the international context. Last spring, she was an extern at the Hudson Institute, a think-tank in DC that deals mainly with national security issues. Kia is currently the Career Development Director of ILS and recently participated in the 2016 Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. She also plans on attending the Aberdeen Summer Abroad Program this  summer. 

 

[1] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[2] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[3] http://www.dailyevergreen.com/news/article_38faf3bc-da91-11e5-a5e1-fb5b07906df6.html

[4] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[5] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[6] http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/

[7] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[8] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150901-isis-destruction-looting-ancient-sites-iraq-syria-archaeology/

[9] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[10] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[11] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[12] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[13] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[14] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[15] http://hyperallergic.com/210944/un-says-isiss-cultural-destruction-may-amount-to-war-crimes/

[16] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[17] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[18] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[19] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[20] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[21] http://unitetosave.si.edu/projects/response/

[22] https://global.si.edu/success-stories/safeguarding-cultural-heritage-syria-and-iraq

[23] http://legal.un.org/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

[24] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[25] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[26] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[27] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882