International Criminal Court extends remit to land grabbing

Fatou Bensouda

Landgrabs and destruction of the environment will now be within the remit of the International Criminal Court following an announcement it would take crimes traditionally prosecuted less frequently into consideration.

In a new policy paper the court referred specifically to land grabbing as well as the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land.

While it is not creating new offences, existing ones, such crimes against humanity will be interpreted in a broader context.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda said: “With this policy paper we are equipping our office with clear and transparent guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the selection and prioritisation our cases.

“In accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity, such decisions, are made on the strength of sound, pragmatic and fair criteria, which effectively and efficiently advance our mandate. In particular, the policy paper will assist the office in the often difficult assessment of how to allocate its finite resources to the ever burgeoning demand arising from situations of mass atrocity.”

Richard Rogers, of international criminal law firm Global Diligence, said the court’s broadened remit meant recognition of the fact that serious human rights violations can be committed during peacetime too.

He said: “It will not make land-grabbing per se a crime, but mass forcible evictions that results from land-grabbing may end up being tried as a crime against humanity.”

Mr Rogers has lodged a case with the court on behalf of 10 Cambodians who allege that the ruling elite has committed human rights violations since 2002 through land grabbing and that up to 350,000 people have been evicted.

He added: “Cambodia is a perfect example for this new ICC focus. It fits into the new criteria.”

Reinhold Gallmetzer, of the ICC working group who drafted the policy paper, said: “We are exercising our jurisdiction by looking at the broader context in which crimes are committed. We are extending the focus to include Rome statute crimes already in our jurisdiction.

“Forcible transfer can already be a crime against humanity, so if it is committed by land-grabbing – whether as a result or a precursor – it can be included.”