Bas Czerwinski/Reuters

Could the ICC Have Jurisdiction Over the Situation in Lebanon?

The opinions expressed in the article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Beirut Today.

With everything going on in Lebanon, one must get a little creative to move things forward.

Let’s start with some basics.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) can only deal with crimes that affect the international community – the big stuff. These crimes are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression. We’re interested in the second crime on the list. Keep that in mind, it’ll be important later.

The ICC can deal with these crimes only in specific scenarios. One of these scenarios – and the one that is of interest to us here – requires that one of the crimes listed above be committed on the territory of or by a citizen of a country that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. 

The Court has jurisdiction if that country signed the ICC’s founding treaty (such countries are referred to as State Parties to the Rome Statute), or if that country decides to accept the Court’s jurisdiction. For example, this is what Palestine did in 2015. Lebanon, however, is not a State Party.

In cases where the Court has jurisdiction, one of the ways that it can exercise that jurisdiction is if the ICC’s Prosecutor decides to start an investigation if he or she reasonably believes one of the above crimes has been committed.

So back to the situation in Lebanon.

At this point, it’s no secret (if it ever was) that corruption has been a huge problem in Lebanon for decades. It is also no secret that corruption is the normal course of business at all levels of government. Why else would the country be currently facing some of the world’s worst humanitarian and socio-economic problems in modern history?

If we step back and look at the big picture, we see a pattern of corruption on a large scale. Nobody would believe that that these acts of massive corruption are random and isolated. It’s as if corruption is a matter of state policy in Lebanon, where the whole government has morphed into a criminal organization.

If we zoom back in, we start to see that seemingly singular events that have shaken the country in the past three years – the economic collapse and the Beirut port explosion come to mind – are but a few strands weaved into this grand tapestry of corruption covering Lebanon.

If we zoom out again (last time, I promise), it almost feels like some kind of widespread or systematic attack directed at one main target: the Lebanese population.

Okay, but where are you going with this?

So, it would appear that, in theory, the chaotic context in Lebanon provides the main ingredients that make up the legal elements of some of the crimes that could amount to crimes against humanity. Remember, the kind of crime that the ICC can deal with.

Just a bit more legal stuff, I promise.

Common features of crimes against humanity include a list of prohibited acts, or underlying crimes, that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population. That part, we covered already.

Now, some of the underlying crimes that can amount to crimes against humanity, given the right context, include “other inhumane acts” that cause great suffering or serious injuries, as well as deportation or “forced displacement”.

Inhumane acts are acts that cause serious physical or mental suffering. They are the kind of acts that cause blatant violations to fundamental human rights such as the right to healthcare, the right to food, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to education.

Just as important, people have the right to live in their communities and homes, the right to live in their own country, and the right to return to their country.

Deportation, or forced displacement, means to be removed from a country where the person is legally allowed to be using coercion. Coercion does not necessarily mean violent acts, like murder or torture. It can mean the deprivation of fundamental human rights, killing, destruction, and looting.

Coercion can also mean causing a coercive environment, where a person feels pressured or forced to leave because the living conditions have become intolerable. In other words, they felt like they had no other option but to leave.

To sum it up in five words: an attack on human dignity. Sound familiar?

Fine, but was does this all mean for a country like Lebanon that is not a State Party to the ICC?

As mentioned above, Lebanon is not a state party to the ICC’s Rome Statute. For obvious reasons, it’s also unlikely for Lebanon to accept the Court’s jurisdiction.

However, the Court can have jurisdiction where one element of a crime takes place in another country that IS a party to the Rome Statute.

Remember that great suffering and forced deportation stuff that we covered earlier?

Well, it turns out that mass emigration could be the key, the missing piece of the puzzle.

It’s clear to any reasonable person that the decades-long, endemic corruption at the highest levels of government would eventually lead to major catastrophes.

In Lebanon’s case, the widespread and systematic acts of grand corruption culminated in an economic crash in October 2019, which in turn, created a cascading domino effect. The economy’s collapse caused a series of direct and foreseeable dire humanitarian and socio-economic consequences such that the living conditions in Lebanon became unbearable and unsustainable.

As a result, in a span of only three years, Lebanon has seen unprecedented and irreversible mass emigration that has caused significant demographic shifts inside the country. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have fled their country at an alarming rate because of the consequence of corruption. Lebanon’s “third exodus,” some have called it.

After the economic crash, and especially following the Beirut port blast which made much worse the already grim living conditions, families felt pressured to leave to find safety and stability for their children.

Many students worried about their futures and were forced to leave their country to finish their education and find employment.

A significant portion of the country’s doctors, nurses, engineers, professors, teachers, and other professional also left the country, causing a terminal brain drain.

There is no better example of great suffering than being left with no choice but to leave your home, relatives, community, culture, language, and values. Not many would also disagree that the living conditions in Lebanon reached a point where people were forced to decide to leave.

Where did many people flee, you ask?

Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Georgia, Serbia, among others. All State Parties to the Rome Statute.

So yeah, maybe the ICC has a role to play in the situation of Lebanon.