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Q&A: International Criminal Court

Posted by tothewire on March 4, 2009

Q&A: International Criminal Court



The International Criminal Court in The Hague has been a controversial addition to the global justice system. The court has been ratified by more than 100 countries – but not by the US.

The BBC News website 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 international courts?

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 individuals.

The international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda do try individuals for crimes against humanity, but only those crimes committed in those territories over a limited time.

Those tribunals will eventually be wound up. The new International Criminal Court however, is a permanent body.

Are there any time limits on what it covers?

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.

Additionally, 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.

What kind of cases is the court considering?

The first person to face trial at the ICC is Thomas Lubanga, the leader of a militia group in the Democratic Republic of Congo who is accused of war crimes relating to the use of children in that country’s civil conflict.

He was arrested in 2005 after nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were killed in the Ituri area of north-eastern DR Congo.

Others wanted by the ICC include leaders of Uganda’s rebel movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is active in northern Uganda, north-eastern DR Congo and South Sudan.

Its leader, Joseph Kony, is accused of abducting thousands of children and forcing them to kill their own parents. He remains at large and refuses to sign a peace deal until the ICC arrest warrant is revoked.

The ICC is also investigating events in the Darfur region of Sudan, where almost two million people have been displaced.

Working without the co-operation of the government in Khartoum, the ICC is looking into reports of rape, sexual violence and the intimidation of humanitarian personnel.

Two Sudanese officials have been indicted on war crimes charges.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has also asked judges to issue a warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, which has sparked the anger of Sudanese officials.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo is also investigating alleged war crimes committed by four rebel leaders.

How can the court secure the arrest and trial of suspects?

The ICC has no police force of its own to track down and arrest suspects.

Instead it must rely on national police services to make arrests and seek their transfer to The Hague.

Thomas Lubanga was handed over to the court by authorities in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

How does the system work?

The prosecutor begins an investigation if a case is referred either by the UN 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 judge.

Currently Judge Philippe Kirsch (Canada) serves as president, Judge Akua Kuenyehia (Ghana) as first vice-president, and Judge Rene Blattmann (Bolivia) as second vice-president.

Who has agreed to co-operate with the court?

One hundred 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 involved?

During negotiations, the US argued that its soldiers might be the subject of politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions.

Various safeguards were introduced, and 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 US sovereignty in criminal justice.

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 UN Security Council voted on 12 July 2002 on a compromise that gave US troops a 12-month exemption from prosecution – renewed annually.

But the Security Council – prompted by UN 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 has not ruled out co-operation with the court in particular cases, such as on the Darfur issue.

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 ICC.

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 at first.




4 Responses to “Q&A: International Criminal Court”

  1. dorian9 said

    welcome back ttw – good post! glad to have you back, we your blog family were starting to worry…

    international criminal court, united nations, nato, reminiscent of “utopia”- fans of conspiracy theories will cry out “nwo”!! this new world order conspiracy theory has its share of gurus. michael tsarion comes to mind. he brings some interesting storytelling complete with ancient history with lots of old testament references – biblical, also koran passages, darwin, atlantis, celtic and mayan legend, aliens, illuminati, etc..something in it for everybody. if you enjoy sci-fi indiana jones or dan brown you can find michael tsarion’s videos on youtube. the man is genius or lunatic or both, you decide. good with popcorn.


  2. Lawman2 said

    i posted it, but too lazy to change posted by! lol

    i’ll check out michael tsarions videos…i like conspiracy theories


  3. Lawman2 said

    you and kay kept it going and we appreciate you! we had some personal things going on, but the caveman is back…lol


  4. dorian9 said

    these will entertain you – loaded with conspiracy theories. he’s actually a good speaker and quite intelligent and has done his homework with the research. but a conspiracy theorist with his own agenda just the same:


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