The Meaning of Gravity at the International Criminal Court: A Survey of Attitudes About the Seriousness of Mass Atrocities
24 UC Davis Journal of International Law and Policy 209 (2018)
43 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2018 Last revised: 13 Apr 2019
Date Written: February 22, 2018
Gravity is an extremely important concept at the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is crucial to decisions about which situations to investigate, which cases to bring to trial, and what sentences to impose on those who are found guilty. Gravity may also be very important for the long-term success of the court. The Rome Statute states that the ICC will exercise jurisdiction over “the most serious crimes” and that the prosecution of these “grave crimes” will “contribute to [their] prevention.” And it may well be true that if the court is perceived as investigating and prosecuting the most grave crimes that this will contribute to the prevention of such crimes. But the court must not only claim to be prosecuting the most serious offenses, it must be seen to be prosecuting the most serious offenses.
This dynamic places a great deal of weight on the meaning of gravity within the Statute. If the ICC’s gravity definition does not accord with most people’s expectations, then they are less likely to perceive the court as prosecuting the most grave offenses. If people do not perceive the court to be focusing on crimes of the greatest gravity, they are less likely to believe the ICC is legitimate, and less likely to conform to its norms. As a result, it is very important that the court’s gravity decisions match people’s expectations about those decisions. Unfortunately, there is very little scholarship on how the population as a whole views the gravity of mass atrocities.
This Article aims to fills that void by surveying people about their understanding of crime gravity. The survey asked participants to rate the seriousness of different mass atrocities. The participants’ scores were then used to determine which factors increase the perceived gravity of crimes. The results indicate that there are some areas where there is relatively broad agreement as well as some areas where there is less agreement. Overall, the results are good news for the ICC because they suggest that it is possible for the ICC to create a gravity definition that most people will view as legitimate. Ultimately, having a definition of gravity that most people can agree with will help the Court accomplish its long-term goal of preventing violations of international criminal law.
Keywords: gravity, International Criminal Court, survey, mass atrocities, crime seriousness
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation