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What Is the International Criminal Court?

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What is the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court ("ICCt") is a permanent tribunal that was developed to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression when the individual's national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes. The ICCt is a court of last resort, designed to complement existing national judicial systems. The primary responsibility to investigate and punish crimes remains with the individual states.

After the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the establishment of a permanent international criminal court is necessary to prosecute individuals for the kinds of crimes committed during World War II. As a result, in the early 1950s, the International Law Commission drafted two statutes, both of which were not implemented due to the Cold War. The need for a permanent international criminal court was later addressed in 1989 by A.N.R. Robinson, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who wanted such a court created in order to deal with illegal drug trade. In the meantime, several temporary tribunals were established to prosecute war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. This further illustrated the need for a permanent international criminal court because temporary tribunals created after the fact only address war crimes at a specific time and place. Additionally, setting up a temporary tribunal is a challenging, time-consuming, and costly task. It would be more effective and efficient to establish a permanent international court because action could be taken right away, which could reduce the impact of the committed crimes. In addition, if a permanent international criminal court exists, it would likely dissuade individuals from committing crimes in the first place if they knew that they could be prosecuted. These benefits considered, on July 17, 1998, state signatories adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ("Rome Statute"), allowing for the establishment of the ICCt.

On July 1, 2002, the day the Rome Statute entered into force, the ICCt began operating, having the authority to prosecute crimes committed on or after that date only. Even though the ICCt is officially located in the The Hague, Netherlands, its proceedings may take place elsewhere. Being an independent international organization, the ICCt is not part of the United Nations system. The ICCt is mainly funded by state parties, although it does receive voluntary contributions from other sources, including governments, individuals, international organizations, and corporations.

As of March 2011, 114 states are members of the ICCt. Another 34 countries, such as Russia, signed but have not yet ratified the Rome Statute. On December 31, 2000, under the Clinton administration, the United States signed the Rome Statute, but later withdrew its signature on May 6, 2002 under the Bush administration. The US is still not part of the ICCt under the current Obama administration, although it is seen that the US is more supportive of the ICCt than it had previously been. Several states, such as China and India, disapprove of the ICCt and, consequently, have not signed the Rome Statute and are not part of the ICCt.

Thus far, the ICCt has opened investigations in the following six countries: Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan (Darfur), the Republic of Kenya, and Libya. Out of the 23 people who have been indicted, 21 are being prosecuted and of those, eight remain fugitives, one is presumptively dead, five are in custody, two appeared before the ICCt, and six are expected to voluntarily appear before the ICCt. The ICCt's first trial commenced on January 26, 2009, and was against the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga. The second trial began on 24 November, 2009, and was against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, also Congolese militia leaders.

How Does the International Criminal Court Operate?

The Structure of the ICCt

The organizational structure of the ICCt is illustrated below, followed by details regarding the function of each body.

Assembly of States Parties

The Assembly of States Parties, the ICCt's management oversight and legislative body, governs the ICCt. The Assembly is composed of one representative from each state party and is headed by a president and two vice presidents who are elected by members and serve three-year terms. The Assembly meets once a year in either New York or The Hague, and has the option to hold special sessions when necessary. The ICCt's sessions may be attended by observer states and non-governmental organizations.

Each one of the member states has one vote in the Assembly of State Parties. "Every effort" should be made to reach decisions by consensus; however, if that is not possible, decisions may be made by vote. The Assembly is responsible for electing judges and prosecutors, deciding the ICCt's budget, adopting texts such as the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and overseeing other organs of the ICCt. State parties are not allowed to interfere with the judicial functions of the ICCt. If any disputes arise regarding individual cases, they will be settled by the Judicial Divisions.

Under the Assembly, the ICCt is composed of four organs: the Presidency, the Judicial Divisions, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the Registry.

The Presidency

The Presidency consists of three judges, elected for three-year terms. Their main task is to manage the overall administration of the ICCt, excluding the Office of the Prosecutor. The current President of the Court is Judge Sang-Hyun Song of the Republic of Korea. The First Vice President is Judge Fatoumata Dembele Diarra of Mali and the Second Vice President is Judge Hans-Peter Kaul of Germany.

The Office of the Prosecutor

The Office of the Prosecutor receives referrals and other information on crimes that took place within the ICCt's jurisdiction. The Office of the Prosecutor is mainly concerned with examining these referrals, running investigations, and conducting prosecutions before the ICCt. The Office of the Prosecutor is elected by state parties.

The Registry

The Registry does not have any judicial responsibilities. Instead, the Registry is responsible for the administration and servicing of the ICCt. The Registrar heads the Registry and acts as the principal

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