Two words that change everything

When Just Stop Oil describes the Government as criminal, genocidal or guilty of mass murder, how do you feel? To some people, these words sound implausible and melodramatic. Far from it. Of course, they express rage but they also have a rock-solid justification in international criminal law.

We all wish it wasn’t the case. Our politicians, wearing their smart suits and jumping in and out of posh cars, don’t look like murderers. It’s easy to see them as corrupt, nasty, and self-serving. But willing to kill? That is so much harder and more challenging to get our heads around.

It’s truly frightening to accept that our lives are in the hands of people who are ready to let us and our children die. But it’s not exaggeration or rhetoric – if only it was.

Of course, by issuing new licences for oil and gas production, politicians are not directly seeking mass death. The primary aim of their support for fossil fuels is profit and power. To them, it’s an inconvenient side effect that millions and eventually billions of people will die when new oil and gas breaches climate targets.

But under International Criminal Law, it is not an inconvenience: it is murder by oblique intent. And these two words – oblique intent – change everything. Speak them, understand them and the mask slips: respectable-looking politicians are seen as the murderers they really are.

Oblique intent is referenced in Article 30 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that death or harm doesn’t have to be a primary intention for someone to be held criminally responsible. They simply have to be ‘aware that it will occur in the ordinary course of events’. 

Here is the Article in full, with these all-important words in bold.

Article 30 Mental element

1. Unless otherwise provided, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court only if the material elements are committed with intent and knowledge.

2. For the purposes of this article, a person has intent where:

(a) In relation to conduct, that person means to engage in the conduct; 16 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

(b) In relation to a consequence, that person means to cause that consequence or is aware that it will occur in the ordinary course of events.

3. For the purposes of this article, “knowledge” means awareness that a circumstance exists or a consequence will occur in the ordinary course of events. “Know” and “knowingly” shall be construed accordingly

By issuing licences for new oil and gas, politicians know that they will breach agreed targets, contributing to millions and ultimately billions of deaths. These deaths are falling most heavily on people in the Global South but are coming fast for everyone. And this unfathomable death toll, past, present and future, is known to politicians as a ‘consequence that will occur in the ordinary course of events’. It’s a law of nature that burning fossil fuels, after a certain point, kills – and that burning more, kills more. When whole peoples are erased from the surface of the earth, as will happen when island states are obliterated, it is genocide.

This is not manslaughter: there is no negligence or diminished responsibility in play here. It is murder, carried out with full awareness and knowledge of cause and effect.

It is only the naivete of politicians, a sense of invulnerability born of privilege, that blinds them to the legal case mounting against them. A dossier of evidence alleging that five prime ministers – David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak – have committed crimes against humanity and genocide has been submitted to the Metropolitan Police. While so far it’s been ignored, the evidence will keep on coming. 

Of course, it is not just politicians who bear criminal responsibility here. The UK Youth Climate Coalition have gone straight to the International Criminal Court in the Hague with their compelling dossier of evidence against BP. Lawyers are starting to assign responsibility to UK law firms who’ve made over a trillion dollars in recent years from oil and gas deals – deals which these lawyers KNEW would endanger all humanity for thousands of years to come.

As the clamour for criminal responsibility intensifies, the stakes couldn’t be higher as we demand an immediate end to all new oil and gas on the streets this April. We need everyone out there with us – including you.

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