Evaluating the International Criminal Court

Evaluating the International Criminal Court

Nine years after its launch in July 2002, the International Criminal Court has made a promising though problematic start. Some of its difficulties are inherent in its mission and context. Others have been generated by states' and officials' behavior. Carrying out the court's mandate to prosecute the perpetrators of humanity's worst crimes would be difficult even in ideal circumstances. Circumstances are not ideal: The ICC is an international organization that many important states have not joined; it commands a limited budget; it is subject to the political and personal foibles common to international organizations; and finally, its independence is constrained by states' sovereignty. In short, it faces huge challenges as it struggles to build international legitimacy.

The ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that take place on the territory of states that have acceded to its founding document, the Rome Statute of 1998, as well as crimes that are committed by citizens of states party to the statute or that take place in conflict situations referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council. The ICC is meant to be a venue of last resort when domestic justice systems genuinely fail to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the crimes over which it has jurisdiction. Although it is formally a legal-judicial institution, its actions can have major political ramifications, and states may seek to use it for political ends. It has no enforcement capacity and depends upon states to apprehend suspects and to permit collection of information on their territories. It has been the target of harsh criticism and fervent support. Adding to the complexity of its mission, in 2010, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute (ASP) amended the statute to make a fourth crime, the individual crime of aggression, potentially prosecutable in the future.

Despite its complicated international standing, the ICC is still relatively robust in some ways. It employs more than 750 people; has an annual budget of more than $135 million; will see construction of its permanent headquarters in The Hague begin in 2012; and has been making international headlines as it investigates suspects in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, Sudan, Kenya, Côte D'Ivoire and, most recently, Libya. It also has broad support from international nongovernmental human rights organizations.

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