The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent, global group, set up
to hold accountable those who commit grave global offenses like genocide,
crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The Rome
Statute, adopted on July 17, 1998, and effective from July 1, 2002, initiated
The International Criminal Court or ICC came into being in 2002. Its aim is to
ensure those guilty of extreme crimes face justice. Supporters of the court
see it as a deterrent for potential war criminals, strengthening legal
systems, and delivering justice to atrocity victims. Yet, the court has faced
criticism since its birth. Prominent countries, like the U.S., China, India,
and Russia, haven't joined the court yet. Two governments have even removed
themselves from the court's authority. Many African authorities feel unfairly
targeted by the court.
Under President Donald Trump's reign, the U.S. adopted
a stern stance against ICC. However, Joe Biden's administration seems more
open to dialogue. Despite recent difficulties, supporters still believe the ICC's importance. They point out its recent Russian President Vladimir Putin's
indictment in 2023 as proof of its ongoing relevance despite numerous
The ICC has a vital part in making people answer for severe international
crimes, supporting justice, and ensuring responsibility at the global level.
The job they do is important for endorsing law and order and stopping those who
commit serious breaches of worldwide humanitarian law from getting away without
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has more than 900 people on its team
from about 100 countries. It works in six languages: English, French, Arabic,
Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. The main office of ICC is located in The Hague,
Netherlands. The ICC's budget for 2023 is �169,649,200. Since it was started,
the Court has had 31 cases. Some of them involved more than one person. ICC
judges have given 40 orders to arrest people.
This led to 21 of them being
taken into custody and brought to the Court. Still, 16 are not yet caught.
Besides the arrest orders, there were 9 instances where judges told people
they had to show up in Court. So far, the ICC has given guilty sentences to 10
people, and said that 4 people were not guilty. Charges against 5 people were
stopped due to their deaths.
Origin of International Criminal Court
After World War II, the Allies set up the first international war crimes
court, called the Nuremberg Trials, to try top Nazi leaders. But it wasn't
until the 90s that many countries began to like the idea of a stable court to
punish those who committed the world's worst crimes. The United Nations once
set up temporary international criminal courts for war crimes in former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda. However, many experts in international law saw these as
ineffective and not scary enough.
In 1989, Trinidad and Tobago asked a UN group to think about making a permanent
court. Over time, this idea got more support, especially in Europe and Africa.
Michelle Gavin from CFR highlights that African nations form the biggest group
of ICC members. The European Union also strongly backs the court; it even made a
policy to support the ICC in 2011.
The ICC's founding document was approved by the UN General Assembly in Rome in
July 1998. Once more than sixty countries agreed to it, the Rome Statute became
operational on July 1, 2002.
Important aspects of the International Criminal Court
- Jurisdiction: The ICC has power over individuals, not countries. It puts those individuals who commit the stipulated global crimes on trial. But its power is secondary to national legal systems. It intervenes when national governments can't or won't bring the guilty to court.
- Structure: The ICC has several key parts. These are the Presidency, the Office of the Prosecutor, the Registry, and the Chambers. The ICC's central office is in The Hague, Netherlands.
- Cases: The ICC can begin investigations on its own, or when referred to by nations, the UN Security Council, or the Prosecutor independently. Depending on the case's progress, the Pre-Trial Chamber, Trial Chamber, or Appeals Chamber hears it.
- Rome Statute: The Rome Statute describes the ICC's legal system and trial procedures. It also states the particular crimes the court has power over.
Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court
Members of the International Criminal Court
- Crimes: The International Criminal Court (ICC) mainly targets four types of crimes.
- Genocide: This involves actions planned to eliminate partially or completely a group based on nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion.
- Crimes against humanity: Undertaking systematic, mass attacks on ordinary people like killing, torturing, enslaving, and similar cruel acts.
- War crimes: Violations of wartime laws and norms like targeting innocent people or using banned weapons and similar breaches during war periods.
- Crime of aggression: This includes engaging in aggressive actions by a country against the sovereignty of another country. It was included in the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in 2010.
- Cooperation: The ICC needs help from countries and global organizations to perform its duties. This includes detaining and transferring those accused of crimes to The Hague for the trial.
- Controversies: Various disputes and obstacles have challenged the ICC. These include claims of prejudice, restrictions on its authority, and implementation of issues concerning its decisions.
123 countries have joined the Rome Statute. But 40, like China, Ethiopia,
India, Indonesia, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, never signed.
Dozens more signed it, but never ratified it. This includes Egypt, Iran,
Israel, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and the United States.
Two countries have left the ICC. In 2017, Burundi left after the court wanted
to look into the government's tough response to opposing protests. Philippine
President, Duterte, left it in 2019. His issue was court inquiries into his war
on drugs. He claimed local courts can handle the law. In 2016, Gambia and South
Africa told the United Nations they planned to leave the treaty. Later, amid
political turmoil and legal issues, they chose to stay.
Criticisms of the International Criminal Court
Two main issues arise in the criticism of the court. Some critics think it has
too little power, which makes it ineffective in penalizing war criminals.
Then, others feel that it controls too much, and this could risk state
sovereignty. They also worry it doesn't have enough protections against
political bias. People question the judges' qualifications too.
another concern that the fear of international justice keeps conflicts going.
It might discourage war criminals from giving up, though studies on this topic
don't agree. Even the court's supporters know it is not perfect. Tough cases
have sprung up with complex legal and moral issues. For example, former child
soldiers forced to fight and became victims themselves.
Key global players echo the U.S.'s concerns. China and India have chosen not
to participate, believing it would impact their independence. Observers note
that these countries could come under scrutiny if they decided to join. Russia
withdrew its signature in 2016 after the court labeled its 2014 clash over
Crimea as an occupation. It's doubtful Russia will cooperate with the court's
war crimes inquiry in Ukraine.
A large number of African countries see the ICC as unfairly singling out
Africa. All of the court's many cases have concerned alleged offenses in
African countries. In 2016, the African Union supported a mass exodus proposal
initiated by Kenya, a decision that was mostly symbolic. However, the court
still enjoys widespread public approval in Kenya and beyond.
Funding of International Criminal Court
In 2023, the ICC plans to spend about $185 million. Most of this money will
come from member states. The amount each state contributes is decided in the
same way the United Nations does. This method is based mostly on the size of
the state's economy. In 2020, the states that gave the most were Japan,
Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. However, a couple of states, like
Brazil and Venezuela, owe a lot of money in dues.
If needed, the UN General Assembly may give extra money for cases the
Security Council sends to the court. Some governments and groups across nations
also give money willingly.
There are different opinions about the ICC's costs. Some people say the ICC
spends too much. Others argue that you can't judge the ICC's value just by the
number of cases it handles or how many successful convictions it gets.
Working of the International Criminal Court
The ICC headquarters is in The Hague, Netherlands, home to many global bodies.
It also maintains field operations in several countries. The investigative
work of the court is operated through the prosecutor's office. Karim A.A.
Khan, a UK lawyer and former assistant general secretary of the United
Nations, has directed it since 2021.
Eighteen judges work for the court, each representing a different member
state. Members elect judges, with a goal for gender balance. Every UN region
should be represented in the judiciary. Judges and prosecutors cannot renew
their nine-year terms. The administration, led by the president, two
vice-presidents, and the registry, comes from the judges themselves.
The court can hear cases involving four international crime types:
- Genocide: aiming to destroy national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups, whether completely or partly.
- War crimes: These are serious violations of war laws like torture, employing child soldiers, and assaulting civilian areas such as hospitals and schools, as prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
- Crimes against humanity: acts such as murder, rape, imprisonment, slavery, and torture committed as part of large-scale attacks on civilian groups.
- Aggressive crimes: These involve the threat or use of armed force by a state against another state. These actions challenge the target state's territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence. They also violate the UN Charter.
The court has three ways to start investigating possible crimes. A member
country can request an examination of a situation within its borders. The UN
Security Council may also refer a situation. Alternatively, the court's
prosecutor can start an investigation in a member state on his own initiative.
If crimes allegedly occurred in a member state's area, the court can
investigate individuals from nonmember states. This is possible if the
nonmember state accepts the court's jurisdiction or if the Security Council
Starting an investigation requires the prosecutor to first identify serious
crimes. After this, the prosecutor's team gathers evidence. Getting an arrest
warrant or summons needs approval from the judiciary, which uses the
prosecutor's information. A group of pretrial judges then decides if the case
goes to trial. Defendants can get their own lawyers. If they can't afford it,
the court will pay. To convict, at least two of the three trial judges must
agree. The convicted can then appeal to the ICC's appellate bench of five
US stance on International Criminal Court
There's a unique, sometimes tricky relationship between America and the
International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. helped build the ICC, but then
withdrew under President George W. Bush's leadership. The American Service
Members' Protection Act (ASPA) blocks cooperation with the ICC, permitting
force to safeguard American workers from ICC detention.
The relationship has
ebbed and flowed over time, including during President Biden's term. The key
worry focuses on the ICC's power over U.S. citizens. Despite changes, the U.S.
remains uncertain. It doesn't want to hand its people over to the ICC, yet
there's a desire to work on shared issues. This showcases a wary, yet evolving
relationship with the ICC.
India's Stance on International Criminal Court
India didn't sign the Rome Statute to join the International Criminal Court
(ICC) because of worries about sovereignty. India isn't sure about the ICC's
ties to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). It feels the UNSC should
use its powers judiciously and the ICC should stay out of politics.
India wanted the ICC to see nuclear weapon use as war crimes, but they did not
agree. Even though India owns these weapons, it wanted this rule. India also
wanted the ICC to ask permission from each state before acting, instead of
forcing states to comply.
India also wanted the ICC to count cross-border terrorism as a crime because
of its own problems with terrorism. However, India's decision not to sign the
Rome Statute is also about its pride in its judicial system and worries about
global control and intervention. India thinks it could hurt its justice system.
So, India chose not to join the ICC.
Furthermore, India, cognizant of its troops defending the borders and its
peacekeepers serving in United Nations (UN) missions, is acutely aware of their
susceptibility to possible allegations of human rights violations. Therefore,
in an attempt to protect their reputation and avoid any potential legal
consequences, India opted to refrain from participating in the vote.
Some cases decided by the International Criminal Court:
The ICC has delivered judgments on several ICC cases involving individuals
accused of committing serious crimes. Here are some notable instances:
In the case of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former rebel leader from Congo, the ICC found him guilty of recruiting child soldiers. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012.
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former vice president of Congo, was convicted of serious crimes, including rape and murder, committed by his militia in CAR. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2016.
Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord from Congo, was convicted of serious crimes, including murder, sexual slavery, and using child soldiers. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2019.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, an extremist, was found guilty of destroying historical sites in Timbuktu, Mali. He was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2016.
Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the LRA in Uganda, was convicted of serious crimes, including enslavement and forced marriage. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2021.
Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of C�te d'Ivoire, and his political ally Charles Bl� Goud� were acquitted of crimes against humanity in 2019. It was a high-profile case related to violence after an election in C�te d'Ivoire.
These are just a few examples of cases decided by the International Criminal
Court. The court continues to hear cases related to various serious
international crimes, with the aim of holding individuals accountable for their
The ICC backs up national courts without replacing them. It only gets involved
when national courts can't or won't handle a case. Also, it deals only with
crimes after 2002 when its statute took effect. There is no police force under
the direct control of ICC. So, it leans on member countries to catch suspects.
Without its own police, it's handicapped - it can't try people who are not
arrested and brought to it. Suspects must be in member territories for ICC
warrants to affect them.
The ICC is different than the International Court of Justice, the number one UN
court in The Hague. The ICC charges individuals, not states. It's unique
because it operates continuously and has broad reach. It's not like other
international, temporary courts, like Rwanda's.
In summation, ICC is an
international court that operates on a permanent basis with global jurisdictions
and expansive authority on prosecuting people for diverse criminal acts despite
when and where they were committed. Contrary to that, temporary international
courts like the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) are very
specific and confined to particular occurrences, certain areas of jurisdiction
and operate during a specific period aimed at serving particular purposes.
Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565