International Criminal Court: Introduction
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What is the International Criminal Court?
Even though there were various treaties in the 19th and 20th centuries on the laws of war, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history because people got away with it.
In recent years there was a considerable (and mostly successful) effort to set up an International Criminal Court (ICC) to promote the rule of law and ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished no matter who committed them.
When the ICC was eventually established, it was the first ever permanent, treaty based, international criminal court. Thus, the ICC has been set up to guarantee human rights, independently.
Quoting from the official International Criminal Court web site:
What is the current status of the ICC?
The ICC will take some time to come into full effect.
As the official site notes, as of May 3, 2004, 94 countries have ratified the treaty (and are known as State Parties). The breakdown (and updates) can be seen at the official ICC site's State Parties section. State Parties are able to have a say in how the ICC is shaped.
60 ratifications were needed to get the ICC off the ground. This was achieved April 11, 2002. This meant that from July 1, 2002 onwards, any acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed after this date would be permissable for trial by the Court.
What is the position of the United States?
The road to the initial 60 ratifications had been full of controversy.
In Rome, during July 1998, the ICC was given the go-ahead with a vote of 120 to 7. The seven who voted against the ICC were USA, China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen.
But it was the actions and stance of the United States that surprised most:
- Almost all U.S. allies voted for the ICC.
- The Unites States, however, was surprisingly very vocally against the ICC and found itself standing on
par with a handful of countries, which included those that the U.S. itself has described as
- Various human rights and social justice groups have long criticized the U.S. who continue to oppose the International Criminal Court, even as they dropped out in May 2002 (after initially signing up at the last minute in December 2000).
- In addition, the U.S. has been applying pressure to many countries to agree not to surrender or transfer US nationals to the ICC in order to gain immunity for its citizens from the Court.
The U.S. and others have raised concerns that the ICC will undermine their sovereignty.
Will the ICC Undermine Sovereignty of Nations?
In short, no; the ICC is meant to be used when national systems do not, or are unable to function.
As quoted above by the official ICC site, the
jurisdiction of the ICC will be complementary to national
courts, which means that it will only act when countries are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute.
At the beginning of May, 2002, the Bush Administration in the United States announced that it had resolved to
unsign the Rome Statute creating the ICC. The U.S. has long been afraid of an international body having
jurisdiction over the United States and that cases will be brought against U.S. civilian and military authorities
on political grounds.
Responding to that annoucement, Washington D.C-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) also pointed out that the concerns of the U.S. are not justified:
Human Rights Watch has also produced an FAQ (Frequently Answered Questions) section highlighting myths and facts about the ICC. Amongst other things it tries to address how the U.S. and any other state that is party to the ICC will not have their own constitutions or their sovereignty undermined. Included in the reasons is that the ICC must defer to American justice when the United States is willing to investigate and prosecute an alleged crime itself. See also their Questions and Answers about the ICC and the USA for particulars about the United States.
But an additional concern raised is one about how power and influence comes into the equation. Foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky sums this up well:
And talking of power, Stephen Shalom also notes concerns from history:
The remainder pages in this section look at some of the events, obstacles, and controversies surrounding the ICC.
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