ICC basics


Start here to get up-to-speed on the ICC and the Rome Statute system. 

The "never again" court

Based in The Hague, the Netherlands, the International Criminal Court (ICC) tries individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. As the world's permanent international criminal court, the ICC represents an historic moment in humanity's efforts to prevent the commission of atrocities such as those witnessed throughout the 20th century. By fairly and impartially adjudicating the most serious international crimes and bringing justice to victims, the ICC contributes to the advancement of the rule of law and stable, peaceful societies.

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The Rome Statute - the founding treaty

The Court was established by an international treaty in 1998, the Rome Statute, signed by an overwhelming majority of 120 of the world’s states. The Court came into being in 2002 following the ratification of the Rome Statute by 60 states.

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The need for universality

Over 120 states have become party the Rome Statute, fully accepting ICC jurisdiction. This still leaves many countries outside the system, with little access to justice for grave crimes. Particularly underrepresented are the Asia and Middle-East—North Africa regions. States with large populations such as such as China, India, Indonesia, Russia and the United States also remain outside the system.

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Jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes

The ICC has automatic jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed either (I) on the territory of a state party to the Rome Statute; or (II) by a national of a state party to the Rome Statute, irrespective of the location.

Find out more about ICC crimes

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A Court of last resort

Under the principle of complementarity in the Rome Statute, the ICC only acts when national courts are unable or unwilling keep their responsibility to prosecute atrocities at home. ICC member states can challenge the ‘admissibility’ of cases before the ICC if they feel they can prosecute domestically.

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State support and cooperation

The Rome Statute is an opt-in treaty. This mean states must choose to accept its jurisdiction and agree to enforce its law, cooperate with its decisions, and provide it with the political support necessary for its effective functioning.

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No police force

The Court does not have independent power to arrest and thus depends on the willingness of the states to arrest and transfer the wanted person.

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Assembly of States Parties

As the Court’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties provides the ICC with management oversight and strategic direction, elects officials, decides the budget, considers matters of non-cooperation, and can amend the Rome Statute and other rules. Civil society plays a vital role in the work of the Assembly.

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Victims of grave crimes can take part in ICC proceedings and receive reparations for harm suffered - a unique aspect of this system that needs more help to truly deliver on the promise of universal justice. The Trust Fund for Victims is mandated by the Rome Statute to support and implement programmes that address harms resulting from ICC crimes.

Find out more about victims in the ICC system

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No immunity

There is no immunity under the ICC Rome Statute. In fact, it expressly removes immunities for state officials including heads of state or government. Criminal responsibility is applied equally to all persons without distinction.

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The role of the UN Security Council

The UN Security Council can refer situations that represent a threat to international peace and security to the ICC prosecutor for investigation and possibly prosecution.  But the ICC cannot investigate when the UN Security Council fails to refer suspected atrocity crimes situations to the ICC prosecutor for investigation. The Security Council also has the power to defer ICC investigations for one year at a time if it believes it is in the interest international peace and security.

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An independent Court

While the ICC was established by states, it operates independently of governments and other international organizations.

The judges
ICC judges must have established experience and competence in criminal and international law, including humanitarian and human rights law. They must have high moral character, impartiality and integrity. Article 40 of the Rome Statute states that judges may not engage in any activity or occupation that may interfere with their judicial functions. A judge may be disqualified or removed for any case in which their impartiality may be in doubt.

The prosecutor
The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is responsible for conducting investigations and prosecutions before the Court. The OTP acts independently as a separate organ of the Court. No other entity or governing body has authority over the OTP and its examinations. The prosecutor alone decides whether to start a preliminary examination or to open an official investigation into any crimes committed within the jurisdiction of the Court

Independence from the United Nations
The ICC is not part of the UN. The UN did play a key role in the establishment of the ICC, and does exchange relevant information and provide logistical support to the Court, under a 2004 Relationship Agreement. The UN Security Council has certain powers under the Rome Statute – see above. 

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