The Planet vs Bolsonaro


End Case Name:       “The Planet vs Bolsonaro” 

Jurisdiction:              International Criminal Court 

Type of claim:           International Criminal Law 

Summary of result:   N/A 

Source of claims:       Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (crimes against humanity)


Summary of Claim 


In October 2021, the South African environmental group AllRise submitted a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The complaint alleges multiple violations of Article 7 of the Rome Statute (crimes against humanity) perpetrated by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and his administration. The complaint requests for the ICC to open a preliminary examination into these allegations.

The ICC and the Rome Statute

The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization that works closely with, but is independent from, the United Nations. Its purpose is to persecute the most serious crimes in its jurisdiction, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression between member states.[1]

The Rome Statute is the ICC’s founding treaty that established the Court in 2002. It grants the Court jurisdiction over the 4 main crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression) and sets out specific substantive and procedural rules the Court must follow. The ICC has jurisdiction where one of the 4 main crimes has been committed on or after July 1, 2002 where “the crimes were committed by a State Party national, or in the territory of a State Party, or in a State that has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court.”[2] Crimes can also be referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute sets out the criteria for crimes against humanity. Of particular note in this case is 7(1):

(a) Murder;

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender… or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health”

when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

Article 15 of the Rome Statute sets out rules for prosecution of crimes. It gives authority to the Court Prosecutor to initiate investigations based on information received by the Court. The Prosecutor evaluates the information received, and if they conclude “that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation”, they submit a request for authorization of an investigation.

Article 25(3)(c) of the Rome Statute states that: “… a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person… for the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission, including providing the means for its commission”.

The ICC Process: First, the Court conducts a preliminary examination where the Court determines whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed and whether the ICC has jurisdiction. This is followed by an official investigation, a pre-trial stage, the trial itself, and, if necessary, an appeals process.

The Claimants’ Position

The claimants allege that the Bolsonaro administration’s policies encouraging increasing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has, and will continue to have, devastating impacts not only on local communities, but also on a global scale.[3] This has a multitude of effects on the climate, such as worsening droughts, extreme heat and flooding events which directly leads to loss of human life. Other effects of Mr. Bolsonaro’s climate policy include increased risk of future pandemics, political instability and migration of displaced people as well as loss of biodiversity.[4]

The claimants specifically focus on the lives of local community members, called “Environmental Defenders”, who are most affected by the above. It is these groups who have been subject to crimes against humanity “through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment.”[5]

The claimants write that since 2019, Mr. Bolsonaro and key members of his administration have pursued a state policy with the objective to “facilitate the unsustainable and unbridled exploration of the natural resources of the… Amazon”[6] for the “corrupt enrichment of a number of interconnected actors… fraudulently dressed up as legitimate economic development.”[7] This state policy manifests itself in direct violence against Environmental Defenders in the form of murder, death threats, and mental and spiritual violence.[8] The very survival of some of these communities is now at stake due to large-scale infrastructure projects.[9]

The claimants allege that the Bolsonaro administration’s policies meet the criteria of crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute. The state policy “has resulted in a widespread attack with countless criminal acts causing grave environmental destruction, loss of human life, and other forms of severe physical, mental and spiritual violence.”[10] While the ICC has not traditionally included environmental crimes under Article 7, this is beginning to change. In 2016, the ICC Prosecutor recognized that part of the ICC’s mandate involves investigating “land grabbing, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and environmental destruction… in the face of existential and immediate threats to global health and security.”[11]

Further, the claimants provide evidence that Mr. Bolsonaro and other key members of his administration have personally aided and abetted these crimes (as required by Article 25 of the Rome Statute for individual criminal responsibility).[12]

The claimants state that the situation is admissible for investigation at the ICC because a) there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity are being committed,[13] (b) Brazilian authorities are unable to genuinely carry out proceedings,[14] and (c) the gravity of the situation calls for immediate intervention by the ICC.[15]

Next Steps

AllRise submitted their Article 15 complaint in October 2021. Since then, they submitted additional evidence to push for a preliminary examination. To this date, the ICC has not initiated such an examination, and there is no information as to when this will change. AllRise notes that the upcoming Brazilian election is in October 2022, and that they wish to make progress on this investigation before the election.[16]




[3] AllRise Claim, at para. 7

[4] AllRise Claim, at paras. 7 and 9

[5] AllRise Claim, at para. 15

[6] AllRise Claim, at para. 26

[7] AllRise Claim, at para. 27

[8] AllRise Claim, at para. 36

[9] AllRise Claim, at para. 37

[10] AllRise Claim, at para. 28

[11] AllRise Claim, at para. 3

[12] AllRise Claim, at para. 45

[13] AllRise Claim, at para. 47

[14] AllRise Claim, at para. 48

[15] AllRise Claim, at para. 49