In what may amount to be another tool in Sea Shepherd Legal’s arsenal, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Thursday a new policy to prioritize 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.”
As the policy announcement makes clear, this shift does not create or expand the ICC’s jurisdiction. The ICC is limited by its enabling treaty (the Rome Statute) to adjudication of four basic crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Similarly, the ICC is only able to investigate and prosecute such crimes where the involved nations are unable or unwilling to do so.
Nevertheless, while this policy shift is necessarily limited by the four corners of the Rome Statute, the announcement signals an important move toward greater recognition of environmental crimes. By assigning priority to Rome Statute crimes “that are committed by means of, or that result in, . . . the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land,” the ICC points in the direction of greater parity for crimes that impact the environment and wildlife.
For too long, the environment and wildlife have played second fiddle. Although the ICC and the Rome Statute remain primarily focused on harm to humans, yesterday’s news shows at least a partial broadening of the ICC’s perspective. It is about time.
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