Gravity and the Legitimacy of the International Criminal Court

66 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2008 Last revised: 31 Mar 2014

See all articles by Margaret M. deGuzman

Margaret M. deGuzman

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: August 25, 2008


The concept of gravity or seriousness resides at the epicenter of the legal regime of the International Criminal Court. The Court’s founding document, the Rome Statute, declares as the institution's purpose to end impunity for “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole" and restricts the Court's jurisdiction to such crimes. This reflects a widespread consensus among lawyers, politicians, and academics that international criminal jurisdiction should be reserved for offenses of particular gravity. Yet despite the acknowledged philosophical centrality of gravity to the ICC's jurisdiction, academic and judicial sources are virtually silent as to the concept's theoretical basis and doctrinal contours. This silence stems in part from an understandable reluctance to rank or quantify extreme human suffering as well as from the historical reality that past international tribunals have addressed crimes of undeniable gravity. Unlike its predecessor tribunals, however, the ICC must decide for itself which situations are sufficiently serious to merit its attention. As such, one of the institution's most urgent tasks as it seeks to establish its legitimacy is to develop and articulate a sound approach to gravity. This Article seeks to contribute to that process by elucidating the roles gravity plays in the ICC regime, suggesting a theoretical framework for understanding those roles, and proposing prescriptive approaches to gravity that flow from the theoretical framework.

Keywords: gravity, international criminal court, international criminal law, jurisdiction, legitimacy

Suggested Citation

deGuzman, Margaret M., Gravity and the Legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (August 25, 2008). Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 32, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Margaret M. DeGuzman (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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