What is the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first ever permanent international court established to prosecute the gravest international crimes, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since 17 July 2018, the Court also has jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. The Court is designed to promote the rule of law and ensure that those most responsible for the gravest international crimes are brought to justice.

While it is not part of the United Nations (UN), the ICC has an agreement with the UN to assist it in its investigations and provide security in its operations. As an international mechanism for justice, the ICC operates independently alongside the UN.

The ICC was established by an international agreement, the Rome Statute, on 17 July 1998. The Rome Statute sets out the Court’s jurisdiction, structures and functions. The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002, after its ratification by 60 States. Only crimes committed on or after this date can be prosecuted by the ICC.

What does the ICC do?

It prosecutes individuals – not States – for what are considered to be among the most heinous crimes, when they occur in international or non-international armed conflict as of 1 July 2002: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes. The Court also has jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as of 17 July 2018.

When can the ICC exercise its jurisdiction?

The ICC can exercise its jurisdiction (investigate and prosecute) over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression in a Situation where one or more of these crimes is:

  •  Referred to the ICC Prosecutor by a State Party (as is the case of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo);
  •  Referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the UN Security Council (as is the case of Darfur and Libya); or
  •  The ICC Prosecutor initiates an investigation proprio motu (on his/her own initiative).

Principle of Complementarity

The ICC is a court that is complementary to national jurisdictions. It prosecutes those most responsible for the worst crimes when the State in question is either unwilling or unable to do so. It expects that other perpetrators of these crimes will be investigated and brought to trial by the national judicial system. In other words, the Court will prosecute those bearing most responsibility for these crimes, but the majority of those who committed the crimes need to be brought to justice by the local police and courts.

ICC structure

Presidency – President and two Vice Presidents who are also judges.

Chambers – 18 Judges who preside over the Court and decide who is guilty and their sentence, and also determines who are victims.

Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) – The Prosecutor, two Deputy Prosecutors (Deputy Prosecutor, Head of Investigations; Deputy Prosecutor, Head of Prosecutions). The OTP is responsible for investigating and prosecuting those most responsible for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Registry – The Registrar is responsible for the running of the administrative side of the Court, including victims’ support, participation, legal representation and security issues. It works with the Prosecutor to ensure witnesses are protected and safe.

For more information about the ICC, visit its website: http://www.icc-cpi.int/.