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The International Criminal Court – from a troubled past, what future for international justice?

The Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court (ICC) with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate to end impunity for the worst crimes. When dozens of states ratified the Rome Statute much more quickly than anticipated, hopes were high that the Court would make a significant contribution to ending impunity. But now, after a decade of operation, the Court finds itself facing criticism from all sides.

Those working to resolve conflicts complain the Court’s investigations and indictments of warlords—though legally valid—obstruct or undermine peace negotiations. For some, the Security Council’s demand that the Court investigate war crimes in Libya and Darfur, but not elsewhere, has politicized the pursuit of international justice; and this pursuit, many allege, is too heavily focused on Africa, the origin of all of those who have been indicted.

Moreover, after more than ten years, the Prosecutor has brought only 21 cases (involving 28 defendants); only one of these cases has definitively concluded (several are under appeal, and in several more the defendants are not in custody, so the trial cannot begin). And the hope that the Court’s foundation would spur national courts to punish war criminals (to avoid the ICC intervening), has proved illusory in most cases.

In the face of ongoing atrocities in so many countries, that continue to shock the conscience of humanity, it seems beyond doubt that the world needs an International Criminal Court. But can this “utopian” project succeed in an increasingly divided world, where politics, not law, still guides the great powers and the institutions they control?

“Quit before they get hit”: withdrawals from the ICC are an indicator of the Court’s success

Are presidents who seek to withdraw from the ICC in denial about a rare instance of achieved gender equality?


The complex reality beyond the trial of Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen faces trial at the ICC for crimes of which he was also a victim—forcing us to reevaluate dichotomies of guilt and innocence.


States shouldn't use ICC budget to interfere with its work

States complain that the ICC needs to broaden investigations beyond Africa—yet some of the same states are now trying to limit the increased budget needed to do so.


The ICC needs to ally with victims

To survive the current crisis, the ICC must recruit its most persuasive allies—the victims of atrocity crimes themselves. 


A string of departures from the ICC is ringing alarm bells

Three African states have pulled out of the ICC with other departures in the works, putting ICC legitimacy in crisis.


ICC will investigate environmental destruction as well as war crimes

The ICC is now prioritizing crimes involving environmental destruction and land grabbing. How will this change economic development? Español


Rethinking what ICC success means at the Bemba Trial

When measuring ICC success, we need to examine the local impact and not just the international effects. Français


Colombia’s constrained peace process: how courts alter peace-making

The Colombia case shows international courts do impact local peace-making, but in ways more subtle and nuanced than commonly claimed. Español


Lessons from Kenya: unpacking the ICC’s deterrent effect

Although recent empirical work suggests that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a deterrent effect, Kenya’s experience requires a deeper look. 


Running the numbers on ICC deterrence: when does it actually work?

Systematic assessments reveal that the ICC can deter intentional civilian killing, but only under the right conditions. Español


Côte d’Ivoire: The International Criminal Court with its back against the wall

Four years after the ICC's intervention in Ivory Coast, opinions are still divided regarding its impact. Français


Still falling short—the ICC’s capacity crisis

The ICC’s proposed expansion still falls well short of meeting the significant demands on the court.


The key to ICC success: widening the reach of international justice

Technical legal arguments are insufficient to address growing disenchantment with the ICC. More must be done to extend the reach of international justice to the powerful. EspañolFrançais


ICC success depends on its impact locally

Delivering justice for victims is the raison d’etre of the ICC. But making justice count for victims requires much more than fair trials in a Hague courtroom. Français


Law and politics at the International Criminal Court

The ICC should be above politics, but some of the rules found in the Rome Statute make that difficult. 


Elevate the law in fight against atrocities

No one would argue the law should be subservient to politics when confronting domestic criminality, so why should this be the case for international crimes? Español


Is the relationship of the ICC and R2P truly “win-win”?

Evidence from Syria and Libya suggests that linkages between the ICC and R2P are not always win-win. Françaisالعربية


ICC action and the domestic effects of transnational criminality

Noisy discussions in the Israeli/Palestinian context have obscured how the ICC’s role may impact Israel’s relations with other states, especially in Europe. العربية


At the ICC, there is no deterrence without resources

To deter atrocities, the ICC requires more diplomatic support, financial resources and logistical assistance from the Security Council. Español


Reframing the justice debate in Colombia

The debate about whether or not—or how—to punish the crimes committed in Colombia’s long civil war should focus instead on the objectives punishment might achieve. Español


To prevent atrocities, count on politics first, law later

Recent studies pointing to the global deterrent effect of the ICC and international law in reducing atrocities are highly speculative. EspañolFrançais


The International Criminal Court at risk

With all-too-limited resources, the ICC is falling behind in the fight against impunity. Unless drastic measures are taken, it may never catch up.  EspañolFrançais


Palestine’s accession to the ICC may strengthen peace-first approach

While civil society pushes a rights-first agenda in Palestine, resistance towards Palestine’s ICC membership suggests that governments may not embrace this approach.


Small steps forward? International pressure and accountability for atrocities in Sri Lanka

In countries like Sri Lanka – not party to the ICC – international pressure plays an important role in keeping a focus on the issue of accountability for mass atrocities. EspañolFrançais


The Ongwen trial at the ICC: tough questions on child soldiers

LRA commander and former child soldier Dominic Ongwen’s forthcoming trial at the ICC risks obscuring the complex question of how to achieve justice when a victim is also a perpetrator. Españolالعربية


The ICC in Libya – justice delayed and denied

The ICC has issued only 3 indictments in Libya, and no new ones since 2011 – even amidst growing violence. New approaches are needed to make the Court’s mandate meaningful. A contribution to openGlobalRights’ debate on the ICC. العربية


Beyond deterrence: the ICC effect in the DRC

When does the ICC have a preventive effect? Evidence from DRC shows that it may not be the logic of deterrence that works best to prevent atrocities. Français


The ICC and negotiated peace: reflections from Colombia

The Colombian case shows the need for flexibility in balancing the duty to prosecute international crimes with the duty to negotiate an end to the civil war. EspañolFrançais


The ICC’s deterrent impact – what the evidence shows

Despite increased criticism against the International Criminal Court, new evidence suggests that the Court may be having a real deterrent impact. EspañolFrançais


The ICC and beyond: tipping the scales of international justice

International Criminal Court developments in 2014 have certainly been important, but we must also look to key events in regional and national institutions that are pushing the evolution of international law.


Throwing justice under the bus is not the way to go

Past experience suggests warnings that international criminal trials impede peace efforts are overblown. The ICC prosecutor mustn’t politicize her mandate by paying heed to them. Français


ICC – threat or opportunity for Israel-Palestine?

Palestinian accession to the ICC could provide an impetus for Israel to resolve the issue of settlements in the political arena before it reaches a legal adjudication. العربية, עברית


Justice denied? The ICC’s record in the DRC

The ICC has pursued the ‘small fish’ in the DRC, letting those most responsible for the worst crimes off the hook. Français


The ‘interests of justice’ require challenging impunity

The ICC may consider the local context, but no policy or legal decision that permits impunity for gross human rights abuse can satisfy the interests of justice.


The politics of impunity little impacted by the ICC

The intervention of the ICC in some countries has many effects, but little impact on promoting real accountability – and at times working against that goal.


Sovereignty’ no defence against ICC action in Sudan

Respect for ‘sovereignty’ is no defence against ICC action in Sudan, as the government claims. International standards, many that Sudan signed, make clear a state’s treatment of its own citizens is of international concern. العربية


Does the ICC advance the interests of justice?

What exactly are the “interests of justice” in the context of the ICC? And should the ICC prosecutor take conflict resolution into account, or do the interests of peace really lie outside of the ICC’s mandate? Français, Español

Latest responses:

Intolerance of impunity does not make ICC an enemy of peace

Paul Seils

Palestine, the ICC and the emperor’s clothes

Palestinians are all too familiar with how easily international law is ignored – but even so Palestine should join the ICC to show this law still matters. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court.  العربية


The International Criminal Court in Africa: a failed experiment?

Africa can benefit greatly from an International Criminal Court that is credible, fair, competent and independent - the current Court fails on all counts. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court.


The surprising impact of the Rome Statute in India

Though India refuses to join the ICC, the Rome Statute has proved very useful in pushing for law reform that would put an end to decades of impunity for state complicity in violence. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court. हिन्दी


The ICC mustn’t give up in Kenya

While the ICC has encountered serious challenges in Kenya, the Court has an important role to play in strengthening Kenyan rule of law and holding elites to account. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court.


The ICC and its impact: more known unknowns

When it comes to the ICC’s impact on peace processes, we actually know very little, which may be because we are asking the wrong questions. It’s time to create a stronger analytical framework—including examining cases of ICC non-intervention—to properly understand the positive and negative effects of the Court.


The ICC – breach in the dyke, or high water mark?

The International Criminal Court has failed to live up to expectations that it would mark the end of impunity.  Beset by controversy, and its continued relevance under challenge, the Court still deserves the patient support of all who believe in international criminal justice.


All articles and responses in date order:

“Quit before they get hit”: withdrawals from the ICC are an indicator of the Court’s success

Are presidents who seek to withdraw from the ICC in denial about a rare instance of achieved gender equality? A contribution to the openGlobalRIghts debate on the International Criminal Court.

The complex reality beyond the trial of Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen faces trial at the ICC for crimes of which he was also a victim—forcing us to reevaluate dichotomies of guilt and innocence. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court.

States shouldn’t use ICC budget to interfere with its work

States complain that the ICC needs to broaden investigations beyond Africa—yet some of the same states are now trying to limit the increased budget needed to do so. Part of openGlobalRights’ ICC debate.

The ICC needs to ally with victims

To survive the current crisis, the ICC must recruit its most persuasive allies—the victims of atrocity crimes themselves. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court. Français

A string of departures from the ICC is ringing alarm bells

Three African states have pulled out of the ICC with other departures in the works, putting ICC legitimacy in crisis. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court.

ICC will investigate environmental destruction as well as war crimes

The ICC is now prioritizing crimes involving environmental destruction and land grabbing. How will this change economic development? A contribution to openGlobalRights’ debate on the International Criminal Court. Español

Rethinking what ICC success means at the Bemba Trial

When measuring ICC success, we need to examine the local impact and not just the international effects. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the International Criminal Court. Français

New Katanga trial shows DRC’s potential to try complex international crimes

A DRC warlord convicted by the ICC will now also face prosecution by national courts in the DRC—an enormously welcome step.