What is the International Crime Court?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has its headquarter at The Hague in the Netherlands.  Editorial credit: STRINGER Image / Shutterstock.com
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has its headquarter at The Hague in the Netherlands. Editorial credit: STRINGER Image / Shutterstock.com

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent intergovernmental international court which began operations in 2002 and has its headquarter at The Hague in the Netherlands. ICC is a court of last resort for individuals accused of international crimes like genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This court only comes into play when national courts are unwilling or have no capacity to prosecute those accused. The UN security council or states may also refer cases to this court. The Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty, is the foundation and governing document of the ICC and which many countries have ratified and domesticated.


The Geneva Assembly met in Rome in 1998 to finalize the court’s statute. The following month, 120 countries voted to adopt the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court while seven countries rejected the statute and 21 others abstained. Those against the statute were the US, China, Yemen, Iraq, Israel, Libya, and Qatar. The Rome statute became operational on July 1, 2002, followed by an election of eighteen judges in 2013. In 2005, ICC issued the first warrants of arrest.


The 124 states that have ratified the Rome Statute govern the ICC under the name Assembly of States Parties (ASP). The Assembly has a President and two Vice-Presidents that serve on a three-year fixed-term while each state has one representative and one vote. This assembly sits once a year; it elects the court officials, amends the statute, and controls the budget. ICC has four organs: the Presidency, the Judicial Divisions, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the Registry.

Presidency: The Presidency organ is in charge of the court’s administration and it includes the President, two Vice-Presidents, and three judges (elected by fellow judges to join the presidency).

Judicial Division: This division has eighteen judges of the entire court organized into three chambers in charge of the Pre-Trial Chamber, Trial Chamber, and Appeals Chamber. The ASP elects each judge for a fixed term of nine years. Judges come from the state parties’ countries and no two judges may come from one country at a time.

Office of the Prosecutor (OTP): The OTP is an independent office that conducts investigations and prosecutes cases. With the Chief Prosecutor as the head, he or she may have more than one Deputy Prosecutors. For the OTP to open investigations, the cases must have been referred by a state party, referred by the UN Security Council, or authorized by the Pre-Trial Chamber on account of information from independent bodies.

Registry: The Registry handles all non-judicial administration aspects of the ICC. Within the registry’s docket are; legal aid matters, court management, victims and witness protection, detention unit among other services like procurement, personnel, translation and building management. Judges of the ICC elects the Registrar to head this unit for a fixed term of five years.


For ICC to handle a case, the crimes must meet standards prescribed in the Rome Statute which include:

Genocide: Genocide involves harming, killing, or preventing births of a group of people, including forcible transfer of a group of children.

Crimes Against Humanity: widespread or systemic attacks against civilians including murder, deportation, rape, torture, apartheid, persecution, and sexual slavery among others.

War Crimes: International or non-international war crimes committed by state or non-state actors. These are torture, willful killing, biological experiments, denial of trial, taking hostages, unlawful deportation, and mutilation among others.

Crimes of Aggression: ICC cannot handle crimes of aggression until such a time when the court will define such crimes. However, going by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314, these crimes include military occupation, territory annexation, bombardment against a territory, and attack on the land, sea, air forces, or marine and air fleets among many others.

Other jurisdictions include offences against the administration of justice.


Several African states and regional bodies accused the court of being a neo-colonial tool that only targets African leaders. The AU, Kenya, South Africa, and Sudan threatened mass withdrawal from the statute. The US State Department once claimed that the judges and prosecutors do not have sufficient checks and balances and therefore, with the support of the American Service-Members' Protection Act, forbid the US from ever cooperating with the court. Furthermore, prosecution of leaders by the court has made dictators less likely to step down for fear of arrest. Though unintentional, this is the case with Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir and, as believed by different quarters, is the reason Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto ran a vigorous campaign to become president and deputy president respectively.


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