Understanding Crime Gravity: Exploring the Views of International Criminal Law Experts

30 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2020 Last revised: 15 Jan 2020

See all articles by Stuart Ford

Stuart Ford

University of Illinois at Chicago - UIC John Marshall Law School

Date Written: May 1, 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. In a recent survey, participants were asked to evaluate the gravity of different mass atrocities. The participants included both non-experts drawn from the general population and self-identified subject matter experts. At a high level, the data indicate that there is broad agreement between experts and non-experts about the relative importance of the various gravity factors that were tested. This is good news for the ICC as it would be more difficult to agree upon and implement a gravity definition if the experts and the non-experts had serious disagreements about the contents of that definition.

At the same time, there were also some differences between the experts and non-experts. First, the experts were more supportive of almost all of the gravity factors than the non-experts. This is not necessarily a problem for the court, but both the court and the experts need to be aware that non-experts have lower levels of support for the gravity factors that were tested in the survey.

Second, some of the results suggest that non-experts do not intuitively agree with all of the norms of international criminal law. There were several questions — particularly the question related to the treatment of combatants who are hors de combat, the questions related to discriminatory intent, and the question related to the number of victims — where the experts’ answers were consistent with the “correct” answer under international criminal law but were significantly different from the answers of the non-experts. These difference suggest that the experts have internalized the rules of ICL, but that the non-experts do not intuitively recognize all of the same rules.

This finding could have important ramifications for the ICC. If non-experts disagree with key features of international criminal law this could make it harder to persuade people to comply with that law. Thus, the question of the extent to which non-expert views on mass atrocities diverge from the norms of international criminal law deserves further study.

Keywords: international criminal law, international criminal court, ICC, experts, survey, gravity

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Ford, Stuart, Understanding Crime Gravity: Exploring the Views of International Criminal Law Experts (May 1, 2018). 27 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 659 (2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3371032

Stuart Ford (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Chicago - UIC John Marshall Law School ( email )

300 S. State Street
Chicago, IL 60604
United States

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