Read about the functions, composition, organs, criticism and working of the International Criminal Court (ICC), along with some of its high-profile cases.
Introduction and Role of International Criminal Court
Instances of the most serious international crimes, such as war crimes, crimes of aggression, genocide and crime against humanity, can be brought before the International Criminal Court, a permanent international tribunal. It was established by the Rome Statute in 2002.
The International Criminal Court is based in The Hague, Netherlands, and has 123 member states as of 2021. When national courts are unable to take action, the main function of the International Criminal Court becomes to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes.
The International Criminal Court operates on the principle of complementarity, meaning it only intervenes when national courts cannot prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes. This principle is intended to encourage national governments to take responsibility for investigating and prosecuting international crimes within their jurisdictions.
The International Criminal Court has been involved in several high-profile cases, including the trials of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo. The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for several other high-ranking government officials and military leaders accused of committing international crimes, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with war crimes, crimes of aggression, genocide and a crime against humanity with the conflict in Darfur.
The International Criminal Court has several functions outlined in the Rome Statute – the treaty that established it. They are as follows:
1. Prosecuting Individuals for International Crimes
The ICC has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes of aggression, genocide and crime against humanity. The International Criminal Court prosecutor can initiate investigations into these crimes and bring charges against individuals alleged to have committed them.
2. Providing Reparations to Victims
The International Criminal Court can order reparations to be paid to victims of international crimes, including compensation for harm suffered and restitution for destroyed or taken property.
3. Promoting International Criminal Justice
The International Criminal Court is crucial for promoting international criminal justice and holding individuals accountable for the most serious international crimes. By bringing perpetrators to justice, the ICC helps to deter future crimes and promote peace and stability.
4. Providing Legal Assistance to National Courts
The International Criminal Court can provide legal assistance to national courts prosecuting individuals for international crimes, including sharing evidence and providing advice on legal procedures.
5. Cooperating With National Governments and Other Organizations
The ICC works closely with national governments, international organizations, and civil society groups to promote international criminal justice and support victims of international crimes.
The Rome Statute outlines the structure and functions of the International Criminal Court, as well as the crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction, the procedures for investigations and trials, and the role of the Court in promoting international cooperation and assistance. The Rome Statute also establishes the organs of the International Criminal Court, which include:
1. The Presidency
The Presidency is responsible for the administration of the International Criminal Court and the allocation of cases to judges.
2. The Judicial Divisions
The Judicial Divisions consist of the Pre-Trial Division, Trial Division, and Appeals Division. The divisions are responsible for conducting investigations, trials, and appeals in accordance with the Rome Statute.
3. The Office of the Prosecutor
The Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.
4. The Registry
The Registry is responsible for providing support services to the International Criminal Court, such as legal assistance and victim support.
5. The Assembly of States Parties
The Assembly of States Parties comprises representatives from each state party to the Rome Statute. It is responsible for overseeing the administration of the International Criminal Court and making decisions on budget, cooperation, and other matters.
The Rome Statute also outlines the rights of defendants, victims, and witnesses and emphasizes the importance of fairness, impartiality, and transparency in the International Criminal Court’s proceedings. The ICC functions under international law principles, such as respect for human rights and the rule of law, and is dedicated to promoting responsibility and justice for the most severe international crimes.
The International Criminal Court is composed of four main organs:
1. The Presidency
The Presidency is composed of three judges elected by their peers from among the members of the International Criminal Court for a term of three years. The Presidency is responsible for properly administrating the ICC, including allocating cases to the judges.
2. The Judicial Divisions
The Judicial Divisions consist of the Pre-Trial Division, the Trial Division, and the Appeals Division. The Pre-Trial Division and the Trial Division each have a maximum of nine judges, while the Appeals Division has a maximum of five judges. The Assembly of States Parties elects the judges for nine years.
3. The Office of the Prosecutor
The Office of the Prosecutor is headed by the prosecutor, elected by the Assembly of States Parties for nine years. The prosecutor is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.
4. The Registry
The Registry is headed by the Registrar, appointed by the Presidency for five years. The Registry is responsible for providing support services to the International Criminal Court, such as legal assistance and victim support.
How Does the ICC Court Work?
The International Criminal Court work involves several key steps, including:
The ICC prosecutor can initiate investigations into crimes within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, which include war crimes, crimes of aggression, genocide and crime against humanity. Investigations can be initiated on the prosecutor’s initiative, or based on referrals from states, the United Nations Security Council, or other sources.
Arrest and Surrender
If the International Criminal Court prosecutor determines sufficient evidence to support charges against an individual, he or she can request that the International Criminal Court issue an arrest warrant. The International Criminal Court has no police force of its own, so it relies on cooperation from states to arrest and surrender suspects before it.
Once a suspect is in custody, the ICC conducts pre-trial proceedings to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. During this stage, the defence can challenge the charges and present evidence supporting the accused.
If the pre-trial proceedings confirm sufficient evidence to proceed, the case moves to trial. Trials are conducted before a panel of judges, and the prosecution and defence present evidence and arguments.
If a defendant is found guilty, he or she has the right to appeal the verdict and sentence. A separate chamber hears the appeals of judges.
Sentencing and Reparations
If a defendant is found guilty, the International Criminal Court can impose a sentence, including imprisonment or other penalties. The ICC can also order reparations to be paid to victims of the crimes.
Overall, the ICC promotes accountability and justice for the most serious international crimes and deters future crimes by holding individuals accountable. While the ICC faces challenges in achieving its mandate, it plays a critical role in promoting human rights and the rule of law at national and international levels.
High Profile ICC Cases
The International Criminal Court has investigated and prosecuted several high-profile cases since it was established in 2002. Some notable cases include:
Lubanga was the first person convicted by the ICC in 2012. He was a Congolese warlord found guilty of recruiting child soldiers and using them in his militia group.
Bemba was a Congolese politician and militia leader convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2016. During a conflict there, he was found guilty of committing atrocities in the Central African Republic.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi
Al Mahdi was a member of an Islamist extremist group in Mali called Ansar Dine. He was found guilty of war crimes in 2016 for destroying historical and religious sites in Timbuktu.
Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi
Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi is the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He was indicted by the ICC in 2011 for crimes against humanity committed during the Libyan civil war. Still, his case was never fully prosecuted due to his capture by a militia group in Libya.
Ongwen was a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group. He was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2021 for his role in attacks on civilians, including murder, rape, and forced marriage.
The International Criminal Court has faced criticism from various quarters since its inception. One of the main criticisms against the ICC is that it is a tool of Western countries that is used by them to target leaders of developing countries.
Some African countries have accused the ICC of being biased against them and have argued that the Court unfairly targets African leaders.
Critics also argue that the ICC has limited jurisdiction and cannot prosecute individuals from powerful countries like the United States, Russia, and China.
Another criticism of the ICC is that its operations have been slow and inefficient. The International Criminal Court has been criticized for taking too long to complete investigations and trials, which has resulted in delays and the release of suspects due to lack of evidence.
The International Criminal Court has also been criticized for being too expensive, with some arguing that the cost of investigations and trials is too high, given the limited resources available to the Court.
Some have also criticized the International Criminal Court for its inability to enforce its decisions. The Court does not have its police force or military and therefore relies on member countries to carry out its orders. This has resulted in some countries refusing to cooperate with the ICC, which has hampered its ability to prosecute suspects and bring them to justice.
The International Criminal Court is a unique institution with the critical mandate of holding accountable those who commit the most serious crimes against humanity. However, it has faced criticism from various quarters for its perceived biases, inefficiencies, and limited powers.
The ICC must address these criticisms and build a stronger and more effective institution to maintain its credibility and legitimacy in the international community.
Despite its limitations, the International Criminal Court remains an important institution vital in promoting justice and upholding international human rights law.
The international community must continue to support the ICC’s efforts to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice while also working to address the Court’s shortcomings and improve its effectiveness.
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