ICC history – The Road to Rome

1872 Franco-Prussian War

Gustav Moynier – one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross –proposed a permanent court in response to the crimes of the Franco-Prussian War. 

1919 Treaty of Versailles

Calls for an ad hoc international court to try the Kaiser and German war criminals of World War I.

1945 World War II

The Allies set up the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals to try Axis war criminals. 

1948 -Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in which it called for criminals to be tried “by such international penal tribunals as may have jurisdiction” and invited the International Law Commission (ILC) “to study the desirability and possibility of establishing an international judicial organ for the trials of persons charged with genocide.”



While the ILC drafted such a statute in the early 1950s, the Cold War stymied these efforts and the General Assembly effectively abandoned the effort pending agreement on a definition for the crime of aggression and an international Code of Crimes. 

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End of the Cold War – 1989

The end of the Cold War opens up space in the international arena for renewed collective action. In June 1989, motivated in part by an effort to combat drug trafficking, Trinidad & Tobago resurrected a pre-existing proposal for the establishment of an ICC and the UN GA asked that the International Law Commission resume its work on drafting a statute.

1990s UN tribunals

The conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia as well as in Rwanda in the early 1990s and the mass commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide led the UN Security Council to establish two separate temporary ad hoc tribunals to hold individuals accountable for these atrocities, further highlighting the need for a permanent international criminal court.

1994- draft statute for ICC

In 1994, the ILC presented its final draft statute for an ICC to the UN GA and recommended that a conference of plenipotentiaries be convened to negotiate a treaty and enact the Statute. To consider major substantive issues in the draft statute, the General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which met twice in 1995.

1996 to 1998, six sessions of the UN Preparatory Committee

After considering the Committee’s report, the UN GA created the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of the ICC to prepare a consolidated draft text.

From 1996 to 1998, six sessions of the UN Preparatory Committee were held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, in which NGOs provided input into the discussions and attended meetings under the umbrella of the NGO Coalition for an ICC (CICC). In January 1998, the Bureau and coordinators of the Preparatory Committee convened for an Inter-Sessional meeting in Zutphen, the Netherlands to technically consolidate and restructure the draft articles into a draft.

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Rome Conference – 1998. Adoption of the Rome Statute – 17 July 1998

The United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, known as the “Rome Conference,” took place from 15 June to 17 July 1998 in Rome, Italy. More than 160 governments participated in the conference, many with sizable delegations.

At the end of the five weeks of intense and often emotional deliberations, 120 nations voted in favor of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Only 7 nations voted against the treaty (including the United States, Israel, China, Iraq, Qatar), while 21 countries abstained. The Statute was then open for signature and ratification.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court actively participated in the Rome Conference – monitoring the negotiations, producing daily information for worldwide distribution and facilitating the participation and parallel activities of the more than 200 NGOs which attended. The CICC coordinated the input of civil society organizations through Issue Teams that closely followed discussions on particular provisions of the draft statute. Civil society is credited with some of the most important aspects of the Statute, such as its strong provisions for gender crimes and the independence of the prosecutor.

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1998-2002 - Preparatory Commission agrees key legal text

The Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) was charged with completing the establishment and smooth functioning of the Court by negotiating complementary documents, including the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the Elements of Crimes, the Relationship Agreement between the Court and the United Nations, the Financial Regulations, the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the Court.

Under the umbrella of the Coalition, NGOs worked in teams at each session to follow the negotiations on each issue and provide their expert input, gathered on a daily basis to discuss the negotiations, produced notes and reports on the sessions for widespread distribution, prepared papers and statements on the substantive issues, met with governments individually and in government groupings, held press briefings and participated in strategy sessions on the ratification and implementation campaign.

Final draft texts of these documents were adopted by consensus by the Prepcom, the final session of which was held from 1-12 July 2002. The work of the Prepcom was forwarded to the Assembly of States Parties at its first meeting, held from 3-10 September at UN headquarters.

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