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The International Criminal Court: An

Overview | Beyond Intractability

The Basics

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent institution

located in The Hague, the Netherlands.
The Rome Statute, signed 17 July 1998, created the ICC and
established how to govern the Court.
The ICC has been in operation since 1 July 2002.
The ICC tries cases against people accused of genocide, crimes
against humanity, war crimes, or crimes of aggression.
Jurisdiction can be complicated in some situations, but generally, the
Court may only assert jurisdiction in states that have signed the Rome
Statute. Interestingly, the ICC cannot try cases for crimes committed
before a State signed on to the Statute.
As of 1 July 2012, 121 States signed and ratified the Rome Statute.
The ICC consists of the Presidency, the Judicial Divisions, the Oce of
the Prosecutor, and the Registry.


There are 18 judges in the ICC. The Presidency is comprised of three

judges, who are elected from within the 18 judges in the ICC and who each
serve 3-year terms. The Presidency is comprised of The President of the
Court, a First Vice-President, and a Second Vice-President. Once elected, in
accordance with the Statute, these judges oversee the overall management
of the ICC, including "judicial/legal functions, administration and external

The Judicial Divisions are the Appeals Division, the Trial Division, and the
Pre-Trial Division. The President sits on the Appeals Division, along with four
other judges. The Trial and Pre-Trial Divisions consist of no less than 6
judges each, though their proceedings consist of three judges. A single
Judge may carry out many of the functions of the Pre-Trial Chamber. The
judges are placed in the Divisions based on their qualifications and
expertise for a 3-year term, which may be extended for trials they preside
over that continue beyond their term.[2]

The Oce of the Prosecutor receives referrals for cases and information on
crimes within the Court's jurisdiction from States, UN Security Council
(UNSC), or based on their own initiatives.[3] It then examines what it
receives, potentially conducts investigations, and potentially prosecutes
cases before the Court. The Oce consists of the Deputy Prosecutor, the
Investigations Division, and the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and
Cooperation Division.[4]

The Registry, headed by the Registrar, is responsible for judicial and

administrative support of all divisions of the ICC, specifically in matters of
defense, victims and witnesses, outreach, and detention.[5] The Oce of
Public Counsel for Victims and the Oce of Public Counsel for Defence also
technically fall under the Registry, but they essentially function
independently and are semi-autonomous.[6]

Historical Context

Before the ICC, four tribunals in particular showed that there was a need for
a permanent international court to serve the international community. Two of
these tribunals took place after World War II: the International Military
Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945-1946) and the International Military Tribunal for
the Far East in Tokyo (1946-1948). These tribunals set out largely to punish
Nazi leaders and physicians in Germany, as well as the Japanese war
criminals who led their people to fight with Germany in the Second World
War. The astonishment that existed after the horrors of World War II led to
the establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention defined genocide as
a crime under international law and it was under this convention that the
International Law Commission (ILC) was first permitted to explore the
possibility of creating an international judicial body for trying people for
crimes of genocide.[7]

The ILC consists of thirty-four members who have a "recognized

competence in international law" and are nominated and elected by the UN
General Assembly.[8] While the ILC continued to conduct research and
gather information, The Cold War, starting in the 1950s through the 1980s,
caused a decrease in focus and concern for the creation of an international
court. The United States and Russia, as well as their respective allies,
developed a growing distrust of one another and were constantly engaged
in a power struggle, rendering the UN essentially inoperative on many
fronts. Consequently, the ILC was not able to make much, if any, progress
towards beginning discussions about an international judicial body with
governments of the UN Member States. As the Cold War was ending in
1989, the UN General Assembly requested that the ILC "resume work on an
international criminal court with jurisdiction to include drug tracking."[9]
This work began to gain momentum again, but in the meantime, the UNSC
created the third and fourth tribunals that further influenced the international
community. Those were the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia
(ICTY), established in 1993, and the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda (ICTR) established in 1994.[10] Though the support for these
tribunals was strong, these ad hoc tribunals were, and continue to be, very
costly. The ICTY had a budget of approximately $70 million, while Rwanda's
tribunal had an annual budget of approximately $40 million. These high
financial costs made them less appealing to the UN General Assembly and
provided further evidence for the need of an established international court
to streamline funds and eorts. It was not until 1994 that the ILC finished
drafting a statute for the ICC and submitted it to the General Assembly.
After that, an ad hoc committee met twice in 1995 and created the
Preparatory Committee to work towards a "widely acceptable consolidated
draft text."[11] From 1996 to 1998, the committee had six plenary sessions
in order to debate and negotiate the potential court.[12]

Four major issues arose in the negotiations for creating the ICC. "First, the
role of the [United Nations] Security Council, second, the level of
independence granted to the prosecutor, third, the method by which states
would accept the Court's jurisdiction, and fourth, the preconditions that
needed to be met in order for the Court to exercise that jurisdiction."[13]
Some States remained uncomfortable with the amount of power that was
eventually granted to the Court, particularly the United States. While the ICC
is a fully independent body from the United Nations, the UN Security
Council can delay investigations and prosecutions by passing resolutions
supported by at least nine of the UNSC members, as long as no permanent
member of the UNSC vote against the delay resolution.[14] [15] If a
permanent member of the UNSC does not support the resolution, but does
not wish to vote against it either, they may abstain from the vote, therefore
not aecting the outcome. This delay that the UNSC can enact by passing a
resolution is for a period of 12 months that can be renewed annually, and
could be viewed as a potential stalling tactic. The power that the UNSC has
to delay cases makes the ICC's independence somewhat questionable.

Finally, the Rome Statute was completed on 17 July 1998, creating the ICC
and establishing how the Court would be governed.[16] The ICC has been
in operation since 1 July 2002. The four years between the completion of
the Statute and the operationalization of the ICC was due to the delays of
countries ratifying the Statute. In order for it to be put into force, at least 60
governments needed to ratify the Statute, which finally happened on 11
April 2002.[17] During the months between April and July 2002, a 5-person
advance team was put in place to begin the process of setting up the Court.
Over the next year, the Assembly of States Parties elected the judges,
prosecutors, and a registrar.[18] The States also established the first
approved budget for the ICC of approximately 53 million euros for the year
2004.[19] By 2011, the budget nearly doubled to over 103 million.[20]
There is a limited scope as to the types of cases the ICC tries and where the
Court may assert jurisdiction. The ICC tries cases against people accused
of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or crimes of aggression.
Jurisdiction can be complicated in some situations, but generally, the Court
may only assert jurisdiction in states that have signed the Rome Statute.
Interestingly, the ICC cannot try cases for crimes committed before a State
signed on to the Statute. As of 1 July 2012, 121 countries signed and
ratified the Rome Statute.[21]


There are three ways for the ICC to receive a situation to investigate. The
first way is that a State Party of the Rome Statute refers a situation to the
Prosecutor. The second way is for the UN Security Council to request an
investigation of a situation in any State that is a member of the UN. Even if
the State to be investigated has not ratified the Rome Statute, they may still
be investigated because all member states of the UN are bound by UN
resolutions. The third way is on the Oce of the Prosecutor's own initiative.
Under this course of action, the Prosecutor must request authorization to
proceed with an investigation from a Pre-Trial Chamber.[22]

Following the initiation of the investigation, a situation is assigned to a Pre-

Trial Chamber. The Prosecutor may decide before or after the initiation of an
investigation that there is no basis to proceed. However, if a State or the
UNSC has referred the situation to the Prosecutor, the Pre-Trial Chamber
may request that the Prosecutor reconsider their decision to end the
investigation. Additionally, if the Prosecutor decides not to move forward
based on a determination that it would not be in the interest of justice, the
Pre-Trial Chamber could choose to review this determination. If the Pre-Trial
Chamber chooses to conduct a review, it has to arm the determination in
order for it to stand.[23]

However, if an investigation proves fruitful, the Prosecutor may apply to the

Pre-Trial Chamber for a warrant of arrest or a summons to appear for the
person suspected of commiting a crime or crimes that fall under the scope
and jurisdiction of the ICC. If the Pre-Trial Chamber issues the warrant or
summons, it is the hope that the wanted person will be surrendered to the
Court or appear voluntarily, at which point a hearing to confirm the charges
is held. Of the ICC's suspects which there have been warrants issued, three
were arrested by their governments and transferred to The Hauge, while two
were arrested by foreign authorities and also transferred to The Hague. Ten
of the ICC's suspects appeared before the Court voluntarily.

Once the charges are confirmed, the case is then assigned to a Trial
Chamber. During the trial, the Prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused can act as his or her own defense
or be represented by counsel. Decisions made by Chambers can be
appealed throughout the Pre-Trial and Trial phases, which are reviewed by
the Appeals Chamber.[24] Victims can also participate in the proceedings
either directly or through legal representation. When the proceedings have
concluded, the Trial Chamber decides if the accused is to be acquitted or
convicted. If convicted, there will be a sentencing, which can include
imprisonment and even reparations to victims.

Investigations and Cases

Since 2004, the Oce of the Prosecutor has developed 17 cases, with 30
suspects, out of seven situations that they have fully investigated. Of these
seven situations, Member States (Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, and the Central African Republic) referred three, the UNSC referred
two (Libya and Darfur, Sudan), the Oce of the Prosecutor initiated one
(Kenya), and one state (Cote d'Ivoire) gave jurisdiction to the ICC.[25] Of
these 30 suspects,

13 remain at large,
four are awaiting trial,
charges against another four were not confirmed,
three are currently on trial,
two died before they could be brought before the Court,
two are awaiting a decision of guilty or innocent,
one is awaiting their charges to be heard, and
one was convicted.

The conviction is discussed further below.

The Oce of the Prosecutor also currently has preliminary examinations for
Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, and Korea. The
start and progression of these investigations vary, but they range from
beginning in 2005 to beginning in 2010 and all are ongoing. Guinea is an
example of a case that has resulted in positive consequences, with Guinea
moving forward with its own internal trial. Georgia was particularly pressing,
as the Prosecutor received 3,851 communications from individuals and civil
society organizations.[26] The Russian and Georgian governments have
shown some cooperation by participating in meetings with the Oce of the
Prosecutor and providing information requested by the Prosecutor. The
Oce has not been so lucky in conducting its preliminary examination of
Afghanistan, as it has received no responses to its requests for information
from the government.


After nearly two years of analysis and investigation, followed by six years of
proceedings, the ICC's first case verdict was handed down on 14 March
2012. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of Congo was
found guilty of enlisting children under the age of 15, conscripting children
under the age of 15, and using children under the age of 15 to participate
actively in hostilities.[27] On 17 March 2006, there was a public
announcement of the issuance of the arrest warrant for Lubanga. In this
case, the authorities of the State cooperated and transferred Lubanga to
The Hague. Defense counsel was provided to Lubanga because he could
not aord to pay for it himself. When there was an issue of evidence
favorable to Lubanga being withheld from the Defense and the Trial
Chamber because of confidentiality issues, the Court followed judicial
procedure. The Court then conducted the appeal process during the Trial
phase, ensuring that the trial would not move forward until this issue was
resolved. Though these appeals extended the length of the trial, it ensured
that Lubanga's human rights and due process were respected, while still
successfully achieving some kind of justice for Lubanga's victims.

Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years, which would only be eight more years
after the conclusion of the trial since Lubanga was detained in The Hague
since 2006. After the proceedings ended, the Trial Chamber issued its first
decision on victims' reparations for harm caused by Lubanga.[28] This
decision did not outline what reparations should be made to the victims, but
rather requested reparations proposals from victims to be submitted to the
Trust Fund for Victims, which would then be reviewed by the Chamber. This
decision has created some controversy among victims because they are not
sure what to expect or that they will even receive anything for their suering,
particularly since Lubanga was found to be indigent.


The ICC has been a controversial issue since people began talking about its
possible existence. Now that it has been an international judicial entity for
10 years, the consequences seem to be becoming real and some countries
continue to avoid ratifying the Rome Statute. For example, though the
United States signed the Statute, they have not ratified it because it is
viewed as giving up an important piece of state sovereignty.

However, it may be the states that have ratified the Statute that should be
the most worried about their sovereignty, as people are beginning to wonder
if the investigations are biased, looking at only some parties to a conflict
rather than all of them. Another controversy involves the fact that most of
the investigations being conducted are in Africa and the Middle East. Some
people suggest that this implies a bias or unfair focus on those regions
and/or the Court taking advantage of weak states.
Yet, with only one conviction in the 10 years of the ICC's existence, these
consequences may seem unreal or unlikely to many still. With the first
conviction coming down, and Lubanga only serving eight more years from
when the trial finished, the consequences for committing these crimes do
not seem to be as harsh as some might think they should or could be for
those who are found guilty. Additionally, the amount of time that the
investigations and trials take, can allow the suspects to find ways to remain
at large, even after a warrant is issued for their arrest.

Another controversial issue regarding the ICC is the role of the UNSC. The
two have signed an agreement that lays out how the two bodies will
cooperate with one another, largely through administrative procedures and
information sharing. However, the UNSC's ability to delay indefinitely any
case (as described above) is controversial. Particularly the permanent
members of the UNSC have a great power because they can use their veto
power to deny the progression of a referral to the ICC, even if other
members of the UNSC want to pass such a resolution. With the UNSC's
two referrals to the ICC so far, regarding Darfur and Libya, was the Council's
motivation pure in achieving justice for the people of those states or did
they have other motivations in seeing these situations investigated and
potentially prosecuted by the ICC?

These issues also raise questions about the Court achieving what
organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) believe its mission to be,
which they describe as bringing "to trial those most responsible for the
gravest crimes representative of underlying patterns of ICC crimes."[29]
HRW criticizes the ICC for not conducting thorough enough investigations
to go up the chain of command to reach the true leaders who are
committing heinous crimes against humanity. There are also criticisms on
the way the Court is treating gender, because they are not including rape
and sexual violence in the charges against the accused.

The receptiveness and cooperation of the local populations can be

important to the work of the ICC in achieving justice. However, if the ICC
cannot provide appropriate protections for the physical and economic
safety of victims, they may be reluctant to come forward with evidence or to
participate in the trial. Victims may therefore never have the opportunity to
see justice happen or to reclaim their lives after the traumas they or their
families experienced.

These issues are important and their neglect by the Court has rendered it
less successful than many had hoped. However, its task is highly complex
and political, and it would have been unreasonable to expect it to achieve
all its aims without diculty or controversy. It will be interesting to see how
the court addresses these issues in the future, and if it can be made more
eective, more broadly accepted, and more cost-eective.

[1] International Criminal Court. The Presidency. Web. 10 November 2012.

[2] International Criminal Court. Chambers. Web. 10 November 2012.
[3] International Criminal Court. Frequently Asked Questions. Web. 10
November 2012. http://www.icc-
[4] International Criminal Court. Oce of the Prosecutor. Web. 10 November
2012. http://www.icc-
[5] International Criminal Court. The Registry, Web. 10 December 2012.
[6] International Criminal Court. Structure of the Court. Web. 10 December
2012. http://www.icc-
[7] International Criminal Court. Chronology of the International Criminal
Court. Web. 10 November 2012. http://www.icc-
[8] United Nations. Statute of the International Law Commission. 21
November 1947. Web. 4 December 2012.
[9] International Criminal Court. Chronology of the International Criminal
Court. Web. 10 November 2012. http://www.icc-
[10] Benedetti, Fanny and John L. Washburn. "Drafting the International
Criminal Court Treaty: Two Years to Rome and an Afterword on the Rome
Diplomatic Conference." Global Governance 5.1 (1999): 1-37. Web.
[11] International Criminal Court. Chronology of the International Criminal
Court. Web. 10 November 2012. http://www.icc-
[12] Benedetti, Fanny and John L. Washburn. (1999).
[13] Goodlie, Jay and Darren Hawkins. "A Funny Thing Happened on the
Way to Rome: Explaining International Criminal Court Negotiations." The
Journal of Politics 77.3 (July, 2009): 977-997. Web.
[14] United Nations. Charter of the United Nations, Chapter V: The Security
Council. Web. 4 December 2012.
[15] The permanent members are The Republic of China, France, the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, (ibid)
[16] International Criminal Court. Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court. The Hague: International Criminal Court, 17 July 1998. Web.
[17] Coalition for the International Criminal Court. History of the ICC. Web. 4
December 2012.
[18] Kaul, Hans-Peter. "Construction Site for More Justice: The International
Criminal Court after Two Years." The American Journal of International Law
99.2 (Apr., 2005): 370-384. Web.
[19] Programme Budget for 2004, Doc. ICC-ASP/2/10, at 202 (2003); see
also Draft Programme Budget
for 2005 Prepared by the Registrar, Doc. ICC-ASP/3/25, pt. II (A-7), at 17
(2004). As referenced in Ibid.
[20] Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Budget and Finance
Background. Web. 10 December 2012.
[21] International Criminal Court. The States Parties to the Rome Statute. 1
July 2012. Web. 10 November 2012. http://www.icc-
[22] International Criminal Court. How the Court Works. Web. 10 November
2012. http://www.icc-
[23] International Criminal Court. Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court. The Hague: International Criminal Court, 17 July 1998. Web.
[24] International Criminal Court. How the Court Works. Web. 10 November
2012. http://www.icc-
[25] International Criminal Court. Situations and cases. Web. 2 December
2012. http://www.icc-
[26] International Criminal Court. Georgia. Web. 4 December 2012.
[27] Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Lubanga Case. Web. 10
November 2012.
[28]American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the
International Criminal Court. "Questions & Answers: Deconstructing
Lubanga, the ICC's First Case." 7 September 2012. Columbia University
Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Web. 10 November 2012.
[29] Human Rights Watch. "Unfinished Business: Closing Gaps in the
Selection of ICC Cases." 2011. Web.