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ICC: Court to Expand Focus to Environmental and Other Serious Crimes

(Sept. 26, 2016) On September 15, 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it will work on prosecuting environmental and other serious crimes. The announcement came in a press release and policy paper on how the Court will prioritize and select cases. By publishing the paper, described as an “internal document,” the Court hopes to increase transparency about its operations. (Brittany Felder, ICC to Focus on Environmental Crimes, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 16, 2016).)

According to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the policy paper will equip the office “with clear and transparent guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the selection and prioritisation of our cases.” She added that the decisions are made “[i]n accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity … ” and “on the strength of sound, pragmatic and fair criteria.” (Press Release, Office of the Prosecutor, ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, Publishes Comprehensive Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation (Sept. 15, 2016), ICC website.) Bensouda stressed that the new policy paper will help with the difficult decisions on how the ICC should use its finite resources to handle “the ever burgeoning demand arising from situations of mass atrocity.” (Id.)

The criteria for selecting cases are detailed in the policy paper. Decisions will be made on situations to investigate and prosecute

in light of the gravity of the crimes, the degree of responsibility of the alleged perpetrators and the potential charges. The weight given to each criterion will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case and each situation, and the stage of development of the case hypothesis and investigation. The Case Selection Document will be reviewed as investigations proceed, by applying the same case selection criteria. (Office of the Prosecutor, Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation, ¶ 34 (Sept. 15, 2016), ICC website.)

In addition to its traditional focus on crimes committed in armed conflicts, the ICC will now also focus on cooperating with national governments to aid in prosecuting such serious crimes as “illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or the destruction of the environment.” (Id. ¶ 7.) The paper also emphasized the role that can be played by various dispute resolution methods, including through “truth seeking mechanisms, reparations programs, [and] institutional reform … ,” in addition to traditional justice systems. (Id.) The ICC has committed itself to sharing information and evidence with national authorities, on the basis that crimes the Court is investigating may be linked to crimes being investigated under domestic law. (ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, Publishes Comprehensive Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation, supra.)