FOUNDATION: Unit VI. International Implementation, Monitoring, and Enforcement 9 of 11

International Criminal Court (ICC)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) developed in the 1990s. The idea for the ICC gained popularity after the creation of the Yugoslav and Rwandan Tribunals. The purpose was to create a permanent criminal court, so as to not have to rely on ad hoc courts. In 1998, the Rome Statute was concluded. In July of 2002, the Statute was ratified by enough states (60) to come into force, bringing the Court into operation.

Like the ad hoc tribunals, the ICC has “subject-matter” jurisdiction over crimes against humanity (which is now found in some treaty law, such as the Rome Statute), genocide, and certain war crimes, and will also have jurisdiction over the crime of “aggression” once that crime is defined in international law. The ICC can only try individuals, not states, for these crimes. For a case to go forward, either the place of crime or the nationality of the defendant must be linked to a ratifying state.

In July 1995, UN Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali
views shed with remains of hundreds of Rwandans killed
during a massacre at Nyarubuye Church the year before.

UN doctors treat refugees from militia fighting in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 2005.

While the ad hoc and hybrid tribunals can only hear cases about certain individuals (as in the events from former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone), the ICC can hear cases if the defendant is a national of, or the crime takes place in a state that has accepted the ICC. As of mid 2005, 97 countries, over half the countries in the world, had accepted the Rome Statute. At that time, the ICC had opened investigations into possible crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. In addition, the UN Security Council had referred the matter of atrocities in the Sudan to the ICC. No charges had yet been filed.

The International Criminal Court has never been popular in Washington. Historically, the US has usually not been fond of strong and specific international law entailing independent international courts and prosecutors capable of ruling in ways that limit US power and authority.

The United States participated in the negotiation of the Rome Statute. President Bill Clinton signed the treaty establishing the ICC mainly to allow the US to continue to participate in negotiations about the rules of procedure of the new criminal court. He didn’t submit the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent, knowing that Senators would never approve the Court in its existing form. President George W. Bush was so opposed to the ICC that he took the unusual step of retracting the US signature. The US’s opposition to the ICC is a very controversial issue in international affairs.

Presidents Bill Clinton &
George W. Bush, 2004

Opponents of the ICC claim that it allows “politicized” charges to be brought against US citizens. Supporters of the ICC argue that the chance of “politicized” cases involving the US is small, given the safeguards written into the treaty establishing the court and its related office of the prosecutor. Most supporters of the ICC argue that the US is simply opposed to the possibility that people from other countries will sit in legal judgment of US policy or military people.

Should the US ratify the treaty establishing the ICC? Research the pros and cons
of the treaty.
ICC and the Congo
ICC and Uganda
ICC Under Fire Over Uganda Probe