On September 15th 2016, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, announced an important change in emphasis:
"The Office will also seek to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct which constitutes a serious crime under national law, such as the illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or the destruction of the environment."
This is important because until now, the ICC has focused on crimes against humanity committed in war, leaving economic crimes and even murders systematically committed for economic motives to one side.
2015 was a very bad year for people trying to protect their land against appropriation by multinational corporations. According to the Global Witness report, On Dangerous Ground, at least 185 people lost their lives defending their land or their water against extractive industries such as mining, agriculture, logging or hydroelectric dams. Since much of this illegal extraction of natural resources takes place in very remote areas, the real body count is likely to be much higher. Indigenous people represent 40% of the victims. The United States has recently had confrontations between indigenous people trying to protect their land and private security forces employed by a corporation, as seen in Amy Goodman's recent film of attack dogs loosed on Standing Rock Sioux protectors last month.
The Dakota Access Pipeline project is actually a classic case of failure to consult with indigenous communities impacted by a development project.
But what does this have to do with children, you may ask?
Most of the egregious cases of land grabbing occur in isolated communities and impoverished countries with weak land rights systems. Cambodia, which gave the impetus to the recent course correction by the ICC, suffered a revolution in the 1970's by the Khmer Rouge that abolished private property and destroyed records of land ownership. Predatory development projects that enrich government officials and their friends have led to the dispossession and immiseration of communities in Cambodia that had depended on the land, but whose title to it has been hard or impossible to prove. Child labor and human trafficking follow hard upon the implementation of such "development" projects, dooming succeeding generations to poverty and modern forms of slavery.
Even in this country, our environmental and human rights record vis à vis communities of color is nothing to write home about. The children of Flint, Michigan are not an isolated instance of environmental exposure to toxins that can be traced ultimately to the profit motive.
We welcome the expansion of the remit of the International Criminal Court to embrace cases of land grabbing and environmental destruction as violations of human rights. If communities lose their land, their livelihoods and their access to safe drinking water, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable - the children.