Home / Charli Carpenter / Advocacy Campaigns and the ICC

Advocacy Campaigns and the ICC


Part of what I do is track emerging issue campaigns. Apparently the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court has become a focal point for some such campaigners. The conference, occurring later this Spring, includes a reassessment of “crimes under the court’s jurisdiction.”

Well turns out British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins has launched a campaign, arguing that the willful destruction of habitats should be considered a fifth crime punishable by the court.

The eruption of this new cause in the spotlight confirms an insight emerging from my focus group data: one trigger for the emergence of issue campaigns is a forum for pressing them. Just as natural disasters or unexpected events can focus attention on specific problems that had heretofore festered unnoticed, the availability of a specific forum provides a political opportunity that can focus activist attention on specific solutions.

However, it’s apparently the perception that a forum is appropriate that matters, not whether the forum actually makes objective sense for the issue at hand.

Consider Higgins’ argument: that corporations should be penalized for undertaking actions that decimate the environment. Fair enough. But the ICC is a court to punish individuals, not corporations. It’s a site for punishment and deterrence, rather than solving global policy problems per se. And it’s for punishing only those who commit the gravest crimes known to humankind, crimes of universal jurisdiction. The concept and the campaign make sense; certainly the environment could use its share of good global governance, but how likely are global policymakers to be convinced that contributing to the degradation of our habitats should land individuals in the dock alongside those who toss children into bonfires? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, note that the ICC was not evoked this week by a different issue entrepreneur where it actually might have been. At the recent nuclear summit, Dutch prime minister Peter Balkenende proposed using trials for states who proliferate nuclear materials. Only he’d like to create a new court altogether. This is interesting, since nuclear non-proliferation is the kind of crime that might actually make sense to try at the ICC, as it’s generally undertaken by specific individuals and the NPT might be considered part of existing humanitarian law. (Julian Ku has some helpful dissenting points.)

I guess there’s no accounting for strategy, and the existence of a forum is only as helpful to advocates as their understanding of whether it matches the problem they’re trying to solve.

Meanwhile, no sight yet of any organized lobby to add maritime piracy to the ICC’s jurisdiction. A cause ready for an advocacy campaign if I ever saw one…

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