Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

International Criminal Court (ICC)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court created to address serious international crimes including: crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (the crime of aggression is not yet defined but the issue will be re-examined in 2009 with the intention to add aggression to the statute through an amendment). The court came into effect on July 1st 2002 and has jurisdiction over the territory and citizens of the 102 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. The court is seated in The Hague (Netherlands).

The central organs of the court are: the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP, the body responsible for prosecutions, led by the Prosecutor), the Registrar’s Office (the body responsible for the administrative functioning of the court, the Presidency (responsible for the oversight of the court, with the exception of the OTP), and the Chambers (the Judges and their staff). There will be an Appeals Chamber of five judges (the president and four other judges), two Trial Chambers of three judges each, and two Pre-Trial Chambers of three judges each. There are also certain pre-trial functions that may be carried out by a single judge.

Cases can be initiated at the court through three mechanisms: 1) referral by the UN Security Council, 2) referral by a state party, or 3) a decision to initiate an investigation by the independent Prosecutor. In the case of a state party referral, the prosecutor may decide not to prosecute. If, based on information he/she has gathered, the prosecutor decides an investigation would be warranted, he must seek the approval of the Pre-Trial Chamber to begin a formal investigation. When the Security Council refers a case, the court has additional powers to compel co-operation (under Chapter VII of the UN Charter). The Security Council also has the power to pass resolutions restricting the ability of the ICC to investigate or prosecute particular situations for up to twelve months at a time (Article 16 of the Rome Statute).

Almost all of the states in the Americas and Europe have joined the court, as have many countries in Africa and several in Asia and Oceania. However, the effectiveness of the court is limited by the size and importance of the states that have not ratified the statute including the United States, Russia, China, India, and Nigeria. The USA has vociferously opposed the ICC, applying great pressure on state parties receiving American aid to sign "Article 98" agreements that guarantee the immunity of American soldiers serving in these countries. American President George W. Bush also took the highly unusual step of "un-signing" the Rome Statute. American opposition to the court is grounded in misconceptions about the potential for politicised prosecutions.

In 2005 the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC. The court is also currently investigating alleged crimes in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for five LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) rebel leaders in Uganda. These individuals are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC faced some criticism after issuing these warrants by observers who argued that they were disrupting the peace process in Uganda (negotiations between the LRA and the government were underway and amnesties had been offered for rebel soldiers). The creation of the ICC appeared to be a significant development in international criminal law but the exact impact of the court will soon be known as it begins hearing cases.