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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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Ali Rickart

TRIAL, short for Track Impunity Always, does just that. The Swiss organization was founded in 2002 as a way to track and watch international persons that have allegedly committed crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and more. The association has consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is an apolitical organization. After being inspired by the capture of Pinochet in 1998 and the subsequent establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, the goals of TRIAL are to “put the law at the service of the victims of international crime.”[1] TRIAL wants to fight impunity, defend the victims of international crimes, and raise awareness of the crimes and perpetrators to show the need for coherent and effective national and international justice systems.

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There are several areas in which TRIAL works: litigation, lobbying, informing the public, and research. Through these different areas, TRIAL works with people around the globe to successfully meet its goals. The litigation process has three different methods for pursuing international criminals and helping victims. First, the Advocacy Center TRIAL (ACT) works on filing complaints before international human rights bodies, to help victims of crime achieve justice. The second method is to distribute information to victims of armed conflicts and what legal methods they have to promote their right to justice. Third, TRIAL will actually file complaints in Swiss courts “against individuals present on Swiss territory suspected of international crimes.”[2]

TRIAL regularly lobbies with Swiss and international authorities, as well as working with the Swiss Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CSCPI). The research includes ICC Legal Tools, a digital library, which gathers, analyzes, and classifies documents of the 46 countries on national legislation and practice in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  In collaboration with Pro Juventute, TRIAL is working on a video game project, showing the connection between video/computer games and international humanitarian law. The idea was created by TRIAL, but the study received an encouragement award at the 2007 International Human Rights Forum in Lucerne. Recently, TRIAL received the “Geneva grateful” medal (médaille “Genève reconnaissante”) on behalf of the Mayor of Geneva. If you can speak French, the link to the article is posted here.

TRIAL is also a partner organization of the Center for International and Comparative Law (CICL), allowing CICL Student Fellows at the University of Baltimore School of Law to work on profiles as a part of the TRIAL Watch Project.

The TRIAL Watch Project – Informing the Public of International Criminal Law Perpetrators

Informing the public is one of TRIAL’s biggest goals and biggest projects, which is done through TRIAL Watch. Its website is a database compiled of profiles of perpetrators and instigators of international crimes. They also distribute a trilingual TRIAL Journal, printed three times a year. Each day, a summary of news in international criminal law and the fight against impunity in the world is placed on the website and sent to subscribers once a week. As a way to become more known, TRIAL Watch organizes public discussions, lectures, and film screenings as well as  ‘actions’ on important days of the year such as International Justice Day (July 17) and International Day of the Missing (August 30).

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The profiles that are shown on the website of TRIAL Watch are drafted by volunteers and in up to four languages – English, French, Spanish, and German.[3] The profiles include pertinent information such as the criminal’s name, aliases, status (indicted, sentenced, acquitted, etc.), position, as well as what they have allegedly done. Below each brief set of facts and information is a detailed profile including specifics as to the crime and the person, including the facts, the legal procedure, and the context in which the crime occurred (such as the Sierra Leone civil war or Bangladeshi Liberation War, for example).

The profiles also try to include photographs of the alleged criminal and their last known whereabouts. If possible, links to relevant documents are also included such as case documents, United Nations Security Council resolutions, books, judgments, and other related documents. This can help further research by anyone who wants more information on the person, the crime, or the case. It is also possible to be subscribed to a particular profile, in order to be informed if any updates are made on the profile. TRIAL Watch regularly updates all profiles if any new events, charges, indictments, sentencing, etc., occurs to an alleged criminal.

As a Fellow of the CICL and assigned to the TRIAL Watch team, I draft articles of alleged international criminals such as Sladjan Cukaric and Miodrag Josipovic. I have also drafted an update for Maulana Abdus Subhan, as part of the initiative to keep all profiles as current as possible, to help those tracking criminals and their progress through their respective judicial systems, stay up to date on information. It can be hard work, there is not always a lot of available information on people or what little information there is often comes from foreign sources that must be translated and checked for accuracy. The impact TRIAL Watch has on citizens of nations all around the world is worth every second of the work.

If you are interested in international criminal law or international humanitarian law, you can become a volunteer, donate, and become a TRIAL Watch member. You can also join the CICL Fellows program and work on the TRIAL Watch team! It’s absolutely possible to work on international law right here in Baltimore!

Alexandra Rickart is a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, planning to graduate in May 2016 with a concentration in International Law. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2013 with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Business. Her primary interests include international law, international criminal law, and domestic criminal law.

In addition to being a CICL Fellows, she is the Secretary of the International Law Society and a Staff Editor for the University of Baltimore Journal of International Law. She competed in the 2014-15 Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Mid-Atlantic Region. During her first year of law school, she was a tutor for Baltimore elementary students as part of the Truancy Court program through the Center for Families, Children and the Courts. Alexandra is currently a law clerk for a criminal defense firm in Baltimore.

[1] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[2] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[3] The website itself, as a whole, can be translated into one of these four languages by a convenient button on the top right hand of the screen.