Pursuant to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in 1998, the International Criminal Court formally entered into force in July 2002 upon ratification by 60 states.
Unlike other international courts, the ICC was not established to hear crimes resulting from any particular conflict, and has potentially worldwide jurisdiction.
The ICC is the first permanent international criminal court and thus represents a significant step forward in the development of international criminal law. Although it is linked with the United Nations through an extensive Memorandum of Understanding and that the two cooperate often, it is set apart from the United Nations as an independent treaty-based jurisdiction. The Court is located in the Hague, the Netherlands, and can also hold hearings somewhere else if it so decides.
The Court has jurisdiction to prosecute serious international crimes committed since July 1, 2002: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Rome Statute could also permit jurisdiction to hear crimes of aggression. The Rome Statute does not define the crime, recognising that an agreed definition has not yet entered into law, but ongoing efforts are devoted to defining this crime.
The ICC is a treaty based regime and as such is limited to hear cases where crimes have been committed on the territory or by a national of a State Party. The ICC will also hear cases referred to it by the UN Security Council (as in the case of Sudan), which does not require the consent of a State Party.
As of September 2009, there are 110 State Parties to the Rome Statute though there are several powerful states who remain outside the jurisdiction of the court, including the USA, Russia, and China.
The ICC is a ‘court of last resort’, under the principle of complementarity and is competent only if the competent domestic jurisdictions qre unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute, and when the alleged crimes are of sufficient gravity.
The ICC is composed of pre-trial, trial and appeals chambers. The Presidency is responsible for the overall administration of the Court while the Registry manages its administration.
At the ICC, victims directly participate in the proceedings and are able to seek compensation as part of the criminal process, though questions remain over whether these procedures will prove to be effective in practice.
As of September 2009, four situations are being formally investigated in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sudan, and Uganda (cases listed below):
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
The progress before the ICC has been criticised as being slow, with only one trial underway since the Court began operations in 2002. It should also be accepted that the court is in its early stages of development. Criticism of the Court is likely to last long after the judgement of the first trial, which is expected sometime in 2010. Yet, States have continued to ratify the Rome Statute and investigations are ongoing in various zones of conflict around the world.
The forthcoming Review Conference, to be held in May/June 2010, may yet agree a definition for Aggression and add a number of additional crimes to the jurisdiction of the Court.