International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court (ICC)

Origin of ICC

After World War II, the Nuremberg Trials were set up by the Allies to punish top Nazi officials. However, it took until the 1990s for many countries to agree that there should be a permanent court to hold the worst criminals accountable.

Before that, the UN had made temporary international courts to deal with war crimes in places like Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But experts in international law thought these courts didn't work well and didn't discourage crimes enough.

In 1989, Trinidad and Tobago (a country in the Caribbean) suggested that a UN group look into making a permanent court. This idea got more popular in the years after, especially in Europe and Africa. Most countries in the ICC (International Criminal Court) are from Africa, and the European Union really supports the court. They made a rule in 2011 that they're on the court's side.

In July 1998, the UN General Assembly agreed on the ICC's main rules during a meeting in Rome. On July 1, 2002, these rules officially started because more than 60 countries said yes to them.

Certainly, here's the information reorganized for clarity:

Overview of the ICC

Headquarters: The ICC is headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands.

Establishment: It was established in 2002 and is often called "the court of last resort."

Membership: The ICC has around 105 member nations. Notably, India is not a part of the ICC.

Representation: Africa holds the highest representation among the Court's member nations.

Affiliation: The ICC is an independent entity and is not affiliated with the United Nations.

Key Features:

  1. The ICC is a permanent court, focusing on international criminal matters.
  2. It lacks jurisdiction over individuals under 18 years old at the time of offenses.
  3. Geographical authority is limited to ICC member nations.


The ICC consists of 18 judges serving nine-year terms, from different member countries. No two judges can be from the same country.

Punishment and Penalties:

  1. The ICC doesn't impose the death penalty.
  2. The maximum punishment is 30 years in prison. However, in exceptional cases, a life sentence can be issued.

Operational Framework

The ICC operates without its own police force; instead, it relies on the cooperation of member states to arrest and deliver criminals. The court's focus is on individuals, not entities or nations, as it handles prosecutions.

Jurisdictional Scope

The ICC's jurisdiction extends to situations where the alleged offender is a citizen of a State Party or if the crime took place within the boundaries of that State Party. It's important to note that the ICC can only exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed after the laws pertaining to the ICC entered into effect in that State. Some exceptions exist, such as when a State issues a retroactive statement recognizing the ICC's jurisdiction.

Initiating Investigations

When the Prosecutor's Office receives credible information concerning crimes involving citizens of a State Party or a state that accepts the ICC's jurisdiction, or crimes occurring within the territory of such a state, the office evaluates the information to determine if there is a reasonable basis for launching an investigation.

Victims of crimes typically do not need to be physically present at the court's premises unless they voluntarily choose to. Their legal representatives act as intermediaries, conveying victims' opinions and concerns to the Court.

Under international law, the court has jurisdiction over four types of crimes:

  • Genocide, or the aim to eliminate a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group in whole or in part;
  • War crimes are serious violations of the rules of war, such as the Geneva Conventions' bans on torture, the employment of child soldiers, and assaults on civilian targets such as hospitals or schools.
  • Crimes against humanity, or violations perpetrated as part of large-scale attacks on civilian populations, such as murder, rape, incarceration, enslavement, and torture; and
  • Crimes of aggression, or the use or threat of military force by one state against another state's territorial integrity, sovereignty, or political independence, or breaches of the UN Charter.

Rome Statute

According to the Rome Statute, States Parties must fully assist the Court in its investigation and prosecution of offenses within the Court's jurisdiction.


1. Meeting Flexibility:
According to the Rome Statute, the Court has the authority to convene in locations other than its headquarters when the justices find it necessary.

2. Ratification and Non-Ratification:
The Rome Statute has been ratified by more than 123 nations, signifying their commitment to its principles.

3. Non-Signatory Countries:
Notably, certain countries like China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey did not sign the Rome Statute. Among the forty nations that didn't sign, some individuals signed, but their legislatures didn't approve. This group includes Egypt, Iran, Israel, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and the United States.

4. Submitting to Jurisdiction:
A state that becomes a party to the Rome Statute willingly accepts the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the offenses explicitly mentioned in the Statute.

Who funds the ICC?

The ICC's 2023 budget is approximately $185 million, mostly funded by member nations. Contributions align with economies' size, akin to dues. In 2020, top donors included Japan, Germany, France, and the UK. Overdue payments have impacted nations like Brazil and Venezuela. The UN General Assembly can allocate more funds for Security Council-submitted matters to the International Court of Justice. Additionally, certain countries and international organizations make voluntary donations.

High Profile Cases of the ICC

  • Vladimir Putin: The ICC has ordered the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, including deporting and transferring Ukrainian children to Russia. The warrant restricts Putin's travel and diplomatic access.

  • Muammar al-Qadaffi: In 2011, the Security Council submitted the Libyan crisis to the ICC, accusing the Libyan government of complicity in unarmed protest deaths. Qaddafi, his son, and brother-in-law were arrested, but Qaddafi fled and was slain.

  • Omar al-Bashir: Bashir, the first sitting president to be charged by the ICC with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Sudan's Darfur area, is suspected of mass murders and ethnic group deportation. He evaded capture by traveling abroad with foreign guarantees. The ICC sent a mission to Sudan in February 2021 to explore collaboration with the transitional administration.

  • Uhuru Kenyatta: The ICC initiated an inquiry into Kenya's 2007 presidential election violence, identifying Kenyatta and five other political figures as suspects in crimes against humanity. The probe proceeded, with accusations dropped in 2015 and 2016 due to unhelpful government and witness manipulation.

What is America's position?

Washington initially supported the ICC but ultimately opposed it due to concerns about unchecked power and politicized prosecutions. In 2002, President George W. Bush withdrew the US signature on the ICC, leading to the American Service-Members' Protection Act and bilateral agreements. Washington has supported ICC efforts, such as referring to the Darfur case in 2005 and offering assistance. The Trump administration has adopted a tougher stance, and in 2018, the White House announced it would no longer cooperate with the ICC. President Biden has embraced a more cooperative approach, lifting sanctions and visa restrictions and publicly hailing the ICC's indictment of Putin.

Criticism of the ICC

Critics of the ICC stem from two main perspectives:

Power Insufficiency

 - Some argue that the court's limited power renders it inefficient in prosecuting war crimes effectively.

Excessive Prosecutorial Authority and Sovereignty Concerns

 - Others contend that the ICC's prosecutorial authority is excessive, posing a risk to state sovereignty and lacking sufficient  due process safeguards against political bias.

Additional Concerns

- Questions about the credentials of judges have arisen, indicating potential issues with the composition of the court.

- A fear exists that the threat of international justice might hinder the surrender of war criminals, potentially prolonging conflicts, although conclusive evidence on this is lacking.

- Even supporters acknowledge that the ICC is not without flaws.

- Complex cases involving former child soldiers, who were both perpetrators and victims, pose intricate legal and moral challenges.

Sovereignty and Political Dynamics

- Significant powers like China and India share the United States' view that ICC participation could violate their sovereignty.

- Russia withdrew its treaty signature in 2016 following the court's labeling of the Crimea annexation as an occupation, making cooperation on Ukraine-related war crime probes unlikely.

Africa and ICC

- Criticism exists that the ICC disproportionately targets African nations. All of its cases involve alleged crimes in African countries.

- The African Union supported a withdrawal plan led by Kenya in 2016, although the move was largely symbolic.

- Despite this, the ICC enjoys considerable public and international support, particularly in Kenya. African leaders' resistance to the ICC is not necessarily reflective of popular African desires for fairness and accountability.

Comparison between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ)




Role of United Nations

Independent; the UN Security Council may send cases to ICC.

Primary judicial department of the United Nations.



193 (all the members are of UN)


The Rome Statute

The United Nations Charter and the Statute of the International Court of Justice.


Criminal issues, including the investigation and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Civil matters, including resolving legal disputes between member countries and providing advice on international legal issues.


1 prosecutor and 18 judges are chosen for a 9-year term each by the Assembly of State Parties, all of whom are from different countries.

15 judges from various countries are elected for a nine-year term each.


Only in the ICC's member countries, which number roughly 105, individuals can be prosecuted.

All 193 countries that are members of the United Nations. 

Individuals and other private entities cannot be tried.

Funded by

State parties to the Rome Statute and voluntary contributions from the United Nations, governments, private enterprises, and others fund the organization.

UN funds


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