Economic Oppression as a Crime Against Humanity (Abstract)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established to secure the punishment of persons who have committed the most serious crimes which “deeply shock the conscience of humanity”. Yet what shocks the “conscience of humanity” and what leaves people yawning, depends to a large extent on how mass media select and present facts. While millions of innocent human beings have been killed and maimed over the last century in armed conflict and by mass killing, the overwhelming majority of those who fall victim to adverse human agency are not injured by proximate violence but as a result of being compelled to live in subhuman conditions. Many more die silently each year of preventable hunger and disease than from widely reported direct violence. These silent deaths are mostly the result of decisions made, without malice, by individuals pursuing political or economic interests. Yet, intentionally depriving even a single person under custody of basic necessities constitutes an inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment. When committed with the requisite mental state, such conduct may give rise to criminal penalties. Causing death by deprivation of air, water, food, shelter or medicines may even amount to murder. Compelling a person to live in inhumane or degrading conditions is unlawful under international law. Such conditions are defined herein as those which do not fulfil minimal humanitarian standards applicable to prisoners of war. The present article explains why a policy which compels a whole population to live in inhumane or degrading conditions, designated here as economic oppression, is a crime against humanity. The author holds that assigning individual criminal responsibility for acts of economic oppression is compatible with the principle of legality, is ethically justified, politically desirable, and materially feasible.