The abuse of Iraqi prisoners
caused outrage against US troops (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New
The International Criminal Court
has been ratified by 99 countries - but crucially not by the United
States. The court has universal jurisdiction to prosecute genocide,
crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Online examines the main issues behind the creation of the court.
What is the court designed to do?
To prosecute and bring to justice
those responsible for the worst crimes - genocide, crimes against
humanity and war crimes - committed anywhere in the world.
It is a court of last resort, intervening only when national
authorities cannot or will not prosecute.
Aren't there already several
Yes, but they either do different jobs
or have a limited remit.
The International Court of Justice (sometimes called the World Court)
rules on disputes between governments. It cannot prosecute
The international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and
Rwanda do try individuals for crimes against humanity, but only those
committed in those territories over a limited time.
The tribunals will eventually be wound up. The new International
Criminal Court, however, is a permanent body.
Are there any time limits on what
First of all, the court has no
retrospective jurisdiction - it can deal only with crimes committed
after 1 July 2002 when the 1998 Rome Statute came into force.
Then, the court has automatic jurisdiction only for crimes committed
on the territory of a state which has ratified the treaty; or by a
citizen of such a state, or when the United Nations Security Council
refers a case to it.
How does the system work?
The prosecutor begins an investigation
if a case is referred either by the Security Council or by a ratifying
state. He or she can also take independent action, but prosecutions
have to be approved by a panel of judges.
Both the prosecutor and the judges are elected by the states taking
part in the court. Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina is the first chief
prosecutor of the court.
Each state has a right to nominate one candidate for election as a
Eighteen judges of the court elected the presidency on 11 March 2003.
It is composed of Judge Philippe Kirsch (Canada) as President, Judge
Akua Kuenyehia (Ghana) as First Vice-President, and Judge Elizabeth
Odio Benito (Costa Rica) as Second Vice-President of the court.
Who has agreed to co-operate with
Ninety-nine states have ratified the
Rome Treaty so far - and have therefore bound themselves to co-operate
- of the 139 that have signed and may ratify it in the future.
Only one Arab state has joined so far - Jordan.
Why isn't the United States
During the negotiations on the treaty,
the Americans argued that their soldiers might be the subject of
politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions.
Various safeguards were introduced partly to meet this objection.
Bill Clinton did eventually sign the treaty in one of his last acts as
president; however, the Bush administration has been adamantly opposed
to the court and to any dilution of American sovereignty in criminal
The US threatened to pull its troops out of the UN force in Bosnia
unless they were given immunity from prosecution by the ICC. In a
much-criticised decision, the Security Council voted on 12 July 2002
on a compromise that gave American troops a 12-month exemption from
prosecution - renewed annually.
But the Security Council - prompted by Secretary General Kofi Annan -
refused to renew the exemption in June 2004 - two months after
pictures of US troops abusing Iraqi prisoners shocked the world.
The court's operation is seen as weakened without US involvement.
However, Washington's co-operation with the court in particular cases
has not been ruled out, as in the case of Sudan's western Darfur
The referral of the case to the ICC, the first by the Security
Council, was made possible after the US backed away from using its
veto. Washington was given guarantees that its own citizens in Sudan
would be exempt from prosecution.
Are there other dissenters?
Yes, a number of important countries
seem determined not to submit to the jurisdiction of the International
Some have not even signed the treaty, such as China, India, Pakistan,
Indonesia, and Turkey.
Others have signed but remain dubious and have not ratified, for
example, Egypt, Iran, Israel and Russia.
It is unlikely that alleged crimes against humanity in those states
will be prosecuted.
How does it fit in with each
nation's judicial system?
States that join the treaty may want
to make sure that they themselves are able to prosecute all the crimes
that it covers - otherwise the court may intervene.
Some governments have already introduced legislation to make changes
to their own judicial systems.
Who is paying?
The states which take part. This will
be according to the same rules that govern their contributions to the
UN - roughly based on their national wealth.
The absence of the US and Japan in particular will make the funding of
the court more expensive for others.
Germany, France and Britain will be the largest contributors, at least