Law Matters: Can animals qualify as victims before the International Criminal Court (and why does it matter)?

An outlandish question with a sobering answer

  • Tue 8 Dec 20

    17:00 - 19:00

  • Online

  • Event speaker

    Dr Marina Lostal

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Law Matters

  • Event organiser

    Law, School of

  • Contact details

    Law & Human Rights Events and Communications Team

The Law Matters Seminar Series gives you the opportunity to engage with the critical issues of the day in the field of law.


Our Law School Community encourages critical, innovative and forward-thinking and this series of lectures provides a space for students to broaden their views and discuss the issues that really matter.


Dr Marina Lostal, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, University of Essex. 

Chaired by Dr Darren Calley, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, University of Essex. 


The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague regularly investigates and prosecutes individuals for their involvement in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. A less known aspect of the ICC is that animals often appear in its proceedings either as objects of crimes (e.g. pillage) or as objects requested by victims to redress the harm suffered.

Just to provide two examples, in the Katanga case, which involved an attack against the town of Bogoro in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, the legal representative of victims proposed that those individuals who had suffered the loss of a close relative receive ‘one cow with 4 teeth and a corresponding veterinary kit’. A Court document suggesting reparative measures in the Al Mahdi case, which involved the destruction of religious sites in the town Timbuktu (Mali) in 2012, proposed a ceremonial sacrifice of ten bulls to re-confer the sacred nature to the destroyed buildings. 

Despite the recurring appearance of animals in ICC proceedings, the Court’s legal framework is absolutely silent on their status and treatment. As a result, the Court has resorted to the default option of considering them mere ‘objects’. This, however, is problematic: there has been a marked departure from the binary Roman tradition that divides everything into things or persons. The animal turn movement, which questions the classical understanding and treatment of animals, has permeated into both the international and domestic legal spheres. For instance, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Panel affirmed in 2014 that ‘animal welfare is a globally recognized issue’ (EC – Seal Products), para. 7420). At the domestic level, a number of States now proclaim in their civil codes that animals are not things but sentient beings, and afford them, for example, legal requirements and rules of common law, reasonable restrictions, obligations and principles of law, as well as public order and morality. In Pakistan, the Islamabad High Court recently asserted that ‘[a]fter surveying the jurisprudence developed in various jurisdictions it has become obvious that there is consensus that an 'animal' is not merely a “thing” or “property”’ (W.P. No.1155/2019 (25 April 2020), p. 58).

In light of the principle iura novit curia, according to which the Court knows the law, the systemic silence on the treatment of animals in the ICC legal framework should be revisited. This talk aims to ignite the discussion on what status and treatment should animals receive in the ICC legal framework by asking an outlandish question: can animals qualify as victims before the International Criminal Court?

While the short answer to this question is an unequivocal ‘no’, the conclusion reached is not the purpose of the analysis. What this talk aims to show is that animals cannot qualify as ‘victims’ just because they are incapable of being ‘human beings’. Yet, they comfortably meet the other criteria for victimhood under the ICC, namely, suffering harm as a result of the commission of crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction. Thus, the ultimate and more sobering point this talk would like to convey is that granting animals the same treatment as human beings is just as objectionable as granting them the status of ‘things’. 

Lastly, the talk would also go through various reasons why this issue should matter to Court officials and the general public, even to those who are not concerned with animal welfare.

How to register:

You can register here for the event which will be held on zoom.

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