International Criminal Court Expands Priority to Include Cases of Environmental Destruction

(by Boshra Yazahmeidi)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a United Nations-backed court that has historically ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002.

However, in what is a positive outcome for environmental defenders, the ICC declared its decision in September to expand its priority cases to include those crimes “that are committed by means of, or that result in, inter alia, the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land”.  It also includes an explicit reference to land grabbing.

This declaration at the highest level of criminal justice relays two key messages:

  1. Land grabbing and environmental destruction are no less harmful than war with regards to the negative impacts faced by civilians.
  2. Human rights violations committed in a time of peace and in the name of profit can be as serious as traditional war crimes.

This will have implications on how business is done in certain countries, making private companies at risk of being complicit in crimes against humanity.  The Guardian notes that land grabbing has become increasingly common around the world with governments having allocated tens of millions of hectares of land to private companies in the past ten years.

Land-grabbing has been closely linked with deforestation, and with that, climate change, the forced eviction of people from their homeland, malnutrition, and the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples.

This new focus on the part of the ICC could be the much-anticipated step needed towards prosecutions over climate change.

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