Joint Comment to the ICC advocating for strengthened action on environmental crimes

Lawyers and scientists have called for the International Criminal Court to actively engage in addressing environmental degradation and destruction.

(19 March 2024, London, Oxford and Nuremberg)

On 16 March, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London (ICwS), the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme (Oxford SLP) and the International Nuremberg Principles Academy (Nuremberg Academy) submitted a Joint Comment to the International Criminal Court (ICC) advocating for strengthened action on environmental crimes.

Read the joint comment here.

“It is horrible to see the destruction that war and conflict bring to the environment”, stated Professor Christoph Safferling, Director of the Nuremberg Academy. “It is high time that international criminal law reacted. Impunity must end for those acts whose environmental impacts result in significant and continuous human suffering.”

The Comment was submitted in response to a call for comments launched on 16 February by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, with a view to developing a policy on accountability for environmental crimes under the Rome Statute.

“The ICC can play a critical role in the global fight against impunity for environmental crimes by using the existing provisions of the Rome Statute”, believes Maud Sarliève, Fellow of the ICwS and incoming Oxford SLP Climate Research Forum Coordinator, who led the initiative. “The ICC’s policy initiative is welcome as it opens the possibility of new avenues to tackle the urgent challenges presented by the triple planetary crisis while also maintaining a pragmatic approach that aligns with the spirit and letter of the Rome Statute”, she added.

The Comment insists on the critical connection between human and environmental health. It argues that human conduct and activities leading to severe environmental harm usually involve equally severe violations of human rights, potentially qualifying as crimes under the Rome Statute, such as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

“Confronting the existential threats posed by climate change and environmental degradation requires us to harness every resource within our reach including by embracing innovative yet pragmatic legal strategies”, emphasised Professor Kingsley Abbott, Director of ICwS. “We therefore anticipate the ICC’s adoption of robust policies dealing with crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction committed by means of, or that result in, environmental damage.”

The Comment advocates for the integration of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (R2hE) and its associated rights into the ICC’s legal framework, in accordance with Article 21(3) of the Rome Statute. It calls for a comprehensive evaluation of evidence to support allegations of severe violations of the R2hE, particularly when such violations pose a threat to the habitability of the environment. 

While highlighting the primary responsibility of states to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes, the Comment suggests ICC intervention in cases where states are unable or unwilling to pursue justice effectively.

“As the threat posed by climate and environmental crises continue to grow unabated, robust legal frameworks must be employed to reverse course”, said Professor Thom Wetzer, Director of the Oxford SLP. “International criminal law has a role to play in protecting our planet and holding to account those most responsible for imperilling it.”

Sarliève concludes, “with this position, we remain open to the potential introduction of new legal provisions, such as ecocide, if existing laws prove inadequate in safeguarding against environmental destruction or fail to serve as an effective deterrent.” 


Triple planetary crisis: The triple planetary crisis, comprising climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, presents interconnected challenges threatening global sustainability and human well-being. Climate change, fuelled by human activities, leads to extreme weather events and rising temperatures, exacerbating social inequalities and jeopardising ecosystems. Pollution, arising from industrial practices and waste disposal, poses immediate health risks and undermines ecosystem services. Biodiversity loss diminishes ecosystem resilience, endangering food security and livelihoods.

Addressing these crises is vital for global sustainability and human welfare. There is a common understanding that urgent action is needed to mitigate climate change, reduce pollution and conserve biodiversity, safeguarding human health, promoting equity and ensuring a sustainable future. Collaboration across sectors and international cooperation are essential to tackle these challenges effectively and build a resilient planet for generations to come.

Role of the International Criminal Court (ICC): Established by the Rome Statute in 1998 and formally coming into existence in 2002, the ICC serves as a key jurisdiction in the global pursuit of justice for the most serious crimes of international concern. While the ICC has primarily focused on prosecuting individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, there is a growing call for the ICC to extend its jurisdictional scope to encompass crimes associated with environmental degradation and destruction, as evidenced by the ongoing debate surrounding the concept of ecocide.

Recent Developments: On 16 February 2024, the Prosecutor of the ICC issued a call to consider the environmental impacts of crimes falling under the Court’s jurisdiction. The call for comments addresses several specific issues, including: (1) ⁠determining which specific crimes within the Court's jurisdiction should be included in the policy paper; (2) ⁠understanding and applying the applicable modes of participation in those crimes; (3) identifying best practices for investigating and prosecuting crimes that can be committed by means of or that result in environmental damage; (4) ⁠considering environmental crimes when implementing the principle of complementarity; and (5) developing strategies for engaging in international cooperation regarding environmental crimes.

Comment’s Potential Impact: The Comment from leading practitioners and research institutions reflects a concerted effort to advance global dialogue on environmental justice within the sphere of international criminal law. It emphasises the urgency for collective action to protect both human rights and the planet’s future and reveals the important role the ICC could play in mitigating environmental damage. By advocating for the integration of the right to a healthy environment and associated rights into the ICC’s legal framework, the Comment seeks to enhance accountability for environmental crimes and promote a more comprehensive approach to addressing the triple planetary crisis. With the potential to hold individuals accountable for actions leading to severe environmental harm, the ICC aligns with its broader mission to address the most serious crimes of international concern.

Notes to Editors

Maud Sarliève and Dr Pauline Martini are available for comment.

Maud Sarliève, Fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, incoming Oxford SLP Climate Research Forum Coordinator: / +31 6 30 15 40 71.

Dr Pauline Martini, Project Officer at the International Nuremberg Principles Academy: / +49 911 14 89 77 32

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