Myths and facts about ICC


The International Criminal Court and its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, have been the subject of misperceptions and misinformation since the very beginning.

Here are some of the most common myths about the ICC debunked.

Myth: The ICC undermines national sovereignty

Fact: The ICC does not replace national criminal justice systems—complements them. The ICC can investigate and, where warranted, prosecute and try individuals only if the state concerned does not, cannot or is unwilling genuinely to do so itself. Such a situation might arise where proceedings are unduly delayed or are intended to shield individuals from their criminal responsibility. This is known as the principle of complementarity, under which priority is given to national systems. States retain primary responsibility for trying the perpetrators of the most serious of crimes. In short, the ICC does not undermine national sovereignty, as it is a court of last resort.

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Myth: The ICC is a waste of money

Fact: The ICC’s annual budget of around 200 million euro is not insignificant. But international criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials are complex operations requiring very specific human and material resources. In addition, trials cannot be conducted effectively unless they are supported through field presence, witness protection, legal aid, outreach and victim participation activities. The ICC budget must reflect these needs.

The total cost of the ICC has been estimated to amount to only a portion of the total expenditure currently incurred on domestic investigation and prosecution of similar crimes.  What’s more international justice costs a fraction of the trillions spent on waging war and maintaining peacekeeping operations.

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Myth: The ICC is a forum for politically motivated cases

Fact: The Rome Statute of the ICC contains many safeguards to prevent politically motivated cases. For example, any investigation initiated by the ICC prosecutor will first have to be approved by the Pre-Trial Chamber. Further, all indictments will require confirmation by the Pre-Trial Chamber, which examines the evidence supporting the indictment before issuing it. And the accused and any concerned countries will have an opportunity to challenge the indictment during confirmation hearings before the Pre-Trial Chamber.

The ICC prosecutor and ICC judges are subject to rigorous scrutiny before they are elected and appointed to the Court. The treaty establishes strict criteria for the selection of the prosecutor and the judges, requiring experts whose reputation, moral character and independence are not in question.

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Myth: The ICC is targeting Africa

Fact: The ICC is concerned with countries – in all continents – that have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, or that have been referred to the Court by the UN Security Council. African countries made major contributions to the establishment of the Court and they helped influence the decision to have an independent Office of the Prosecutor. At the Rome Conference itself, some of the most significant statements about the need for international justice and the ICC were made by Africans. The Rome Statute may not have been adopted without African support. Currently, Africa is the most represented region in the Court’s membership. Trust and support between the Court and African countries comes not only from African governments, but also from civil society organizations. The Court has also benefited from the professional experience of Africans and a number of Africans occupy high-level positions in all organs of the Court.

The majority of ICC investigations were opened at the request of or after consultation with African governments. Other investigations were opened following a referral by the United Nations Security Council, where African governments were also represented. In addition to its formal investigations, the Court’s Office of the Prosecutor is conducting preliminary examinations in a number of countries across four continents. Civil society is continuing to work to ensure that victims in all parts of the world can access justice for grave crimes.

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Myth: Victim participation at the ICC does not add anything to the proceedings

Fact: Currently, the ICC’s jurisprudence allows victims to participate in a trial in the following ways: Making opening and closing statements, consulting the record of proceedings, receiving notification of all public filings and confidential filings that affect their personal interests and examining evidence if the Chamber feels it will help in determining the truth. Victim participation offers several potential benefits to legal proceedings, not to mention the victims themselves.

Participation benefits the actual proceedings in multiple ways as well. First, victim participation can contribute to providing factual and cultural information that can help the ICC establish the truth. In this way, victims provide invaluable assistance to the Chamber. Victim participation also helps gather social support for the ICC in the geographical area of the investigation. All of this contributes to the greater impact of ICC proceedings at the local level.

It has also been found that participation serves a learning purpose, mostly through exchanges with their legal representatives, victims learn about the rule of law, their rights, and the Court’s mandate. Empowered with such information, victims are more likely to claim their rights in the future.

Participation can also promote individual healing and rehabilitation by providing victims with a sense of agency, empowerment, and closure. In other words, by allowing a victim to participate in the proceedings, abstract justice can take on a more personal dimension, permitting victims to ‘experience’ justice. Greater participation also recognizes the victims’ suffering, and thus can constitute reparation in the form of satisfaction. Moreover, it can lay the foundation for reconciliation in affected communities.

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