Gravity is an enormously important concept at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The word appears nine times in the Rome Statute and is crucial at every stage of the proceedings. It is an important factor in decisions about which situations to investigate, which individuals the court will try, and what sentences to impose on those convicted of violating international criminal law.
Gravity may also be important for the long-term success of the court. The Rome Statute states that the ICC will exercise jurisdiction over “the most serious crimes” that “deeply shock the conscience of humanity.” It also claims that the prosecution of these “grave crimes” will “contribute to [their] prevention.” And it may be true that if the court is perceived as investigating and prosecuting the gravest crimes that this will help prevent such crimes. But the court must not only claim to prosecute the most serious offenses, it must also be seen to prosecute the most serious offenses. If people perceive that the ICC is prosecuting the most serious crimes, then it is more likely that they will view the court as legitimate and comply with the norms contained in the Rome Statute.
This dynamic places a great deal of weight on the meaning of gravity within the Statute. If the ICC's gravity definition does not accord with most people's expectations, then they are less likely to perceive the court as prosecuting the gravest offenses. If people do not perceive the court to be focusing on crimes of the greatest gravity, they are less likely to believe the ICC is legitimate, and less likely to conform to its norms. Thus, it is very important that the court's gravity decisions match people's expectations about those decisions. Unfortunately, there is very little scholarship on how the population as a whole views the gravity of mass atrocities. This article aims to fills that void by surveying people about their understanding of crime gravity. The survey asked participants to rate the seriousness of different mass atrocities. The participants' scores were then used to determine which factors increase the perceived gravity of crimes. The results indicate that there are some areas where there is relatively broad agreement. Factors like the extent of the harm suffered by the victim and the nature of the crime committed were strong indicators of crime gravity.At the same time, factors like the number of indirect victims or the temporal scope of the crimes turned out to be weak indicators of crime gravity. Overall, the results are good news for the ICC.They need to be replicated in other cultures,but there does appear to be relatively broad agreement about some factors that most people associate with crime gravity. These factors could be used to construct a definition of crime gravity that most people would agree with and that they are more likely to view as legitimate.At the same time, some of the factors currently used by the ICC are weak indicators of crime gravity. The survey results suggest that the gravity definitions currently in use by the ICC should be modified to focus on the strong factors and remove the weak factors. This way, the ICC's gravity definition will conform to what most people understand gravity to mean.Ultimately, having a definition of gravity that most people agree with will improve the court's legitimacy and help it accomplish its long-term goal of preventing violations of international criminal law. This article will proceed as follows. Section II discusses the importance of the concept of crime gravity to the success of the ICC, while Section III describes the gravity definition that was tested in the survey. The survey's methodology is explained in Section IV and the demographics of the participants are presented in Section V. Section VI contains the results of the survey and a discussion of those results is found in Section VII. Finally, Section VIII reports the article's key conclusions, while some ideas for future research on crime gravity are presented in Section IX.