Role of International Criminal Court


The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, seeks to hold to account those guilty of some of the world’s worst crimes. Champions of the court say it deters would-be war criminals, bolsters the rule of law, and offers justice to victims of atrocities. The court has faced considerable setbacks. It has been unable to gain the support of major powers, including the US, China, and Russia. 

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied powers launched the first international war crimes tribunal, known as the Nuremberg Trials, to prosecute top Nazi officials. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that many governments coalesced around the idea of a permanent court to hold perpetrators to account for the world’s most serious crimes. 

Members of the court

Role of International Criminal Court

There are 123 countries party to the Rome Statute. Some forty countries never signed the treaty, including China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. 

Several dozen others signed the statute, but their legislatures never ratified it. These include Egypt, Iran, Israel, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and the US.

Two countries have withdrawn from the ICC. Burundi left in 2017 while Philippine pulled out in 2019. 

Working of the court and jurisdiction

Role of International Criminal Court

The court has eighteen judges, each from a different member country and elected by the member states. The president and two vice presidents of the court are elected from among the judges.

The court has jurisdiction over four categories of crimes under international law

  • genocide, or the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
  • war crimes, or grave breaches of the laws of war.
  • crimes against humanity
  • crimes of aggression.

How is it funded?

In 2019, the ICC’s annual budget stood at more than $160 million. The vast majority of that funding comes from member States. Contributions are determined by the same method the UN uses to assess dues, which roughly correspond to the size of each member’s economy.

In 2018, the largest contributions came from Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Some countries, notably Brazil and Venezuela, have run up millions of dollars in overdue payments.

What cases has the ICC opened?

The ICC has indicted more than forty individuals, all from African countries. Seventeen people have been detained at The Hague, nine have been convicted of crimes, and four have been acquitted.

Cases have been referred by the governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali relating to the civil wars and other conflicts that have raged in those countries.

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