The ICC at 20: Five things to know about the International Criminal Court |
In anticipation of the Court’s 20th anniversary on July 1, 2022, here are five ways the ICC is helping to build a fairer world.
1) Judge the most serious crimes
The ICC was created with the “millions of children, women and men” in mind who “have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity”. It is the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression.
During the first twenty years of its operations, the ICC tried and resolved cases of importance to international justice, shedding light on the crimes of using child soldiers, the destruction of cultural heritage, sexual violence or attacks innocent civilians. Through its judgments in exemplary cases, it gradually builds authoritative case law. 31 files were opened. Its judges pronounced 10 convictions and 4 acquittals.
The Court has 17 ongoing investigations into some of the world’s most violent conflicts, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Georgia and Ukraine.
© Marcus Bleasdale
2) Involve the victims
The Court not only tries and punishes those responsible for the most serious crimes, but also ensures that the voices of victims are heard. Victims are those who have suffered harm as a result of the commission of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court.
Victims participate in all stages of ICC judicial proceedings. More than 10,000 victims of atrocities have participated in proceedings and the Court maintains direct contact with communities affected by crimes within its jurisdiction through outreach programs.
The Court also seeks to protect the safety and physical and psychological integrity of victims and witnesses. Although victims cannot lodge a complaint, they can provide information to the Prosecutor, in particular to decide whether or not to open an investigation.
The ICC Trust Fund for Victims is currently implementing the Court’s first orders on reparations. Through its assistance programs, the Fund has also provided physical, psychological and socio-economic support to more than 450,000 victims.
© Finbarr O’Reilly
3) Ensure fair trials
All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before the ICC. Each defendant has the right to a public and impartial procedure.
At the ICC, suspects and accused have key rights, including: being informed of the charges; have the time and facilities necessary to prepare their defence; be tried without undue delay; freely choose a lawyer; receive exculpatory evidence from the Prosecutor.
These rights include the right to follow the proceedings in a language that the accused fully understands; among others. This has led the Court to hire specialized interpreters and translators in more than 40 languages, and sometimes to use four languages simultaneously during the same hearing.
In its first 20 years, participants faced a variety of new substantive and procedural challenges, miles from the crime scene. Moreover, the crimes prosecuted by the ICC are specific in nature and often mass crimes requiring a significant amount of evidence and a great deal of effort to ensure the safety of witnesses. The procedure is complex and many issues have to be resolved behind the scenes during a case.
4) Complement national jurisdictions
The Court does not replace national jurisdictions. It is a court of last resort. States have the primary responsibility to investigate, try and punish the perpetrators of the most serious crimes. The Court will only intervene if the State in which serious crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed is unwilling or unable to genuinely deal with them.
Serious violence is rapidly escalating around the world. The Court’s resources remain limited and it can only deal with a small number of cases at a time. The Court works hand in hand with national and international courts.
© Marcus Bleasdale
5) Strengthen support for justice
With the support of 123 States Parties, from all continents, the ICC has established itself as a permanent and independent judicial institution. But unlike national judicial systems, the Court does not have its own police. It depends on the cooperation of States, in particular to execute its arrest warrants or summonses. Nor does it have territory to relocate endangered witnesses. The ICC therefore depends, to a large extent, on the support and cooperation of States.
As the Court celebrates its 20th anniversary, it calls on States around the world to renew their support by providing political and financial support, arresting suspects and freezing their assets, passing implementing legislation that transposes key provisions of the Rome Statute into national law and by signing voluntary cooperation agreements, including relocation agreements for ICC witnesses.
It is only with the joint and renewed commitment of the international community that the ICC will be able to fulfill its promises of greater justice and reconciliation for all.