What is the Rome Statute?

The Rome Statute governs the functions of the ICC in its 123 member states.  Editorial credit: robert paul van beets / Shutterstock.com
The Rome Statute governs the functions of the ICC in its 123 member states. Editorial credit: robert paul van beets / Shutterstock.com

Also called the Rome Statute or the International Criminal Court Statute, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is an agreement that led to the formation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Roma Statue was approved in Rome on July 1, 1998, during a diplomatic session. The statute became effective as from July 1, 2002. Data shows that there were 123 member nations as of October 2017. This number is after Burundi made history in 2017 by deciding to quit the ICC. The statute defines the functions of the courts, its structure, and its jurisdiction.

Reach of the Rome Statute

Under the statute, there are four crucial international crimes that are not subjected to any statute of limitations by any member state. These crimes are crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, war crimes, and genocide. Further, the court’s jurisdiction complements the jurisdiction of a nation’s local courts and laws. In case the country is unable or unwilling to conduct an investigation, then the ICC is allowed to investigate. The ICC is also limited when it comes to the crimes it has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is only granted if the crimes are committed within the borders of a member state or if a citizen of a member state commits a crime. However, in some cases, the ICC tries people from countries that are not member states upon authorization by the United Nations Security Council.

History of the Rome Statute

After protracted negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly held a conference in June 1988 to finalize negotiations and adoption of the statute. In the vote held during the conference, 120 states were for the statute, seven were against, and 21 abstained. The individual votes of the delegation were not recorded, so the identity of four of the seven is unknown. Three of the states, People’s Republic of China, the United States, and Iran came out publicly.

The Rome Statute was ratified in New York on April 11, 2002, by ten countries. Officially the statute became effective on July 1, 2002 and could investigate crimes. Modifications were made in 2010 at Kampala during a conference, but the amendments are yet to be implemented.

Review and Amendment

Amendments can be made to the statute by member states. However, for an amendment to be passed, it must have a two-thirds support majority from the member countries. In addition, any amendment will not become effective unless ratified by seven-eighths of the party states except those amendments that seek to modify the list of crimes.

Exceptions that seek to modify the list of crimes do not need any form of a majority to be ratified. Any number of parties can ratify the amendment. However, the amendment will only be active within the territories of the members who ratified the amendment.

Recently, a Review Conference was held in Kampala, Uganda in 2010. In the conference, the members approved a description of the crime of aggression. This adoption means that the ICC has jurisdiction over such crimes. Aside from the crime of aggression definition, an amendment was made by expanding the list of the war crimes that the ICC can prosecute.


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