The International Criminal Court

From a troubled past, what future for international justice?

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The Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court (ICC) with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate to end impunity for the worst crimes. When dozens of states ratified the Rome Statute much more quickly than anticipated, hopes were high that the Court would make a significant contribution to ending impunity. But now, after a decade of operation, the Court finds itself facing criticism from all sides.

Those working to resolve conflicts complain the Court’s investigations and indictments of warlords—though legally valid—obstruct or undermine peace negotiations. For some, the Security Council’s demand that the Court investigate war crimes in Libya and Darfur, but not elsewhere, has politicized the pursuit of international justice; and this pursuit, many allege, is too heavily focused on Africa, the origin of all of those who have been indicted.

Moreover, after more than ten years, the Prosecutor has brought only 21 cases (involving 28 defendants); only one of these cases has definitively concluded (several are under appeal, and in several more the defendants are not in custody, so the trial cannot begin). And the hope that the Court’s foundation would spur national courts to punish war criminals (to avoid the ICC intervening), has proved illusory in most cases.

In the face of ongoing atrocities in so many countries, that continue to shock the conscience of humanity, it seems beyond doubt that the world needs an International Criminal Court. But can this “utopian” project succeed in an increasingly divided world, where politics, not law, still guides the great powers and the institutions they control?


Ukraine may need to look beyond the ICC for justice

July 24, 2019
By: Quincy Cloet

While many Ukranians place their hopes in the ICC to end impunity, improving the local judiciary could ...

In Afghanistan, the ICC abandons the field

April 23, 2019
By: Param-Preet Singh

In giving undue weight to politics and practicalities in their decision to abandon war crimes investigations ...

The Gbagbo acquittal and the battle for the ICC’s legitimacy

March 14, 2019
By: Mark Kersten
Español | Français

The acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo by the ICC is seen by many as a blow to the Court’s legitimacy – but ...

Leaders, exile, and the dilemmas of international justice

May 1, 2018
By: Daniel Krcmaric
Español | Français

The advance of international justice means that the “golden parachute” of exile is no longer an easy ...

Why an anti-ICC narrative may help Kenyan leaders win votes

August 22, 2017
By: Geoff Dancy

Anti-ICC narratives resonate with a crucial minority of Kenyan citizens, but not with victims of political ...

Looking deeper to understand African governments’ opposition to the ICC

April 3, 2017
By: Ayodele Akenroye

African governments are withdrawing from the ICC with valid criticisms—but what can be done to make ...

“Quit before they get hit”: withdrawals from the ICC are an indicator of the Court’s success

February 7, 2017
By: Chris Dolan

Are presidents who seek to withdraw from the ICC in denial about a rare instance of achieved gender ...

The complex reality beyond the trial of Dominic Ongwen

December 21, 2016
By: Sarah Kihika Kasande & Virginie Ladisch

Dominic Ongwen faces trial at the ICC for crimes of which he was also a victim—forcing us to reevaluate ...

The ICC needs to ally with victims

November 21, 2016
By: Reed Brody

To survive the current crisis, the ICC must recruit its most persuasive allies—the victims of atrocity ...

A string of departures from the ICC is ringing alarm bells

October 30, 2016
By: James A. Goldston

Three African states have pulled out of the ICC with other departures in the works, putting ICC legitimacy ...

ICC will investigate environmental destruction as well as war crimes

October 19, 2016
By: Richard J. Rogers 

The ICC is now prioritizing crimes involving environmental destruction and land grabbing. How will this ...

New Katanga trial shows DRC’s potential to try complex international crimes

September 16, 2016
By: Paul Seils & Myriam Raymond-Jetté 

A DRC warlord convicted by the ICC will now also face prosecution by national courts in the DRC—an enormously ...

Rethinking what ICC success means at the Bemba Trial

September 14, 2016
By: Valerie Arnould

When measuring ICC success, we need to examine the local impact and not just the international effects.

Colombia’s constrained peace process: how courts alter peace-making

July 26, 2016
By: Sandra Borda & Courtney Hillebrecht & Alexandra Huneeus

The Colombia case shows international courts do impact local peace-making, but in ways more subtle and ...

Lessons from Kenya: unpacking the ICC’s deterrent effect

July 5, 2016
By: Yvonne M. Dutton  & Tessa Alleblas

Although recent empirical work suggests that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a deterrent ...

Running the numbers on ICC deterrence: when does it actually work?

March 22, 2016
By: Hyeran Jo & Beth A. Simmons

Systematic assessments reveal that the ICC can deter intentional civilian killing, but only under the ...

Côte d’Ivoire: The International Criminal Court with its back against the wall

December 2, 2015
By: Eric-Aimé Semien

Four years after the ICC's intervention in Ivory Coast, opinions are still divided regarding its impact

Still falling short—the ICC’s capacity crisis

November 3, 2015
By: Elizabeth Evenson & Jonathan O’Donohue 

The ICC’s proposed expansion still falls well short of meeting the significant demands on the court.

The key to ICC success: widening the reach of international justice

September 22, 2015
By: James A. Goldston
Español | Français

Technical legal arguments are insufficient to address growing disenchantment with the ICC. More must ...

ICC success depends on its impact locally

August 26, 2015
By: Elizabeth Evenson

Delivering justice for victims is the raison d’etre of the ICC. But making justice count for victims ...

Law and politics at the International Criminal Court

August 24, 2015
By: Benson Chinedu Olugbuo

The ICC should be above politics, but some of the rules found in the Rome Statute make that difficult.

Elevate the law in fight against atrocities

July 8, 2015
By: Kip Hale 

No one would argue the law should be subservient to politics when confronting domestic criminality, ...

Is the relationship of the ICC and R2P truly “win-win”?

June 22, 2015
By: Ruben Reike
Français | العربية

Evidence from Syria and Libya suggests that linkages between the ICC and R2P are not always win-win.

ICC action and the domestic effects of transnational criminality

June 16, 2015
By: Valentina Azarov

Noisy discussions in the Israeli/Palestinian context have obscured how the ICC’s role may impact Israel’s ...

At the ICC, there is no deterrence without resources

June 10, 2015
By: Mariana Rodríguez-Pareja  & Salvador Herencia-Carrasco

To deter atrocities, the ICC requires more diplomatic support, financial resources and logistical assistance ...

Reframing the justice debate in Colombia

June 4, 2015
By: Paul Seils

The debate about whether or not—or how—to punish the crimes committed in Colombia’s long civil war should ...

To prevent atrocities, count on politics first, law later

May 12, 2015
By: Jack Snyder & Leslie Vinjamuri
Español | Français

Recent studies pointing to the global deterrent effect of the ICC and international law in reducing ...

The International Criminal Court at risk

May 6, 2015
By: Elizabeth Evenson & Jonathan O’Donohue 
Español | Français

With all-too-limited resources, the ICC is falling behind in the fight against impunity. Unless drastic ...

Palestine’s accession to the ICC may strengthen peace-first approach

April 28, 2015
By: Leslie Vinjamuri

While civil society pushes a rights-first agenda in Palestine, resistance towards Palestine’s ICC membership ...

Small steps forward? International pressure and accountability for atrocities in Sri Lanka

April 24, 2015
By: Kate Cronin-Furman
Español | Français

In countries like Sri Lanka – not party to the ICC – international pressure plays an important role ...

The Ongwen trial at the ICC: tough questions on child soldiers

April 14, 2015
By: Mark Drumbl
Español | العربية

LRA commander and former child soldier Dominic Ongwen’s forthcoming trial at the ICC risks obscuring ...

The ICC in Libya – justice delayed and denied

February 25, 2015
By: Thomas Ebbs & Elham Saudi

The ICC has issued only 3 indictments in Libya, and no new ones since 2011 – even amidst growing violence. ...

The ICC and negotiated peace: reflections from Colombia

February 11, 2015
By: Rodrigo Uprimny & Nelson Camilo Sanchez
Español | Français

The Colombian case shows the need for flexibility in balancing the duty to prosecute international crimes ...

The ICC’s deterrent impact – what the evidence shows

February 3, 2015
By: Geoff Dancy & Bridget Marchesi & Florencia Montal & Kathryn Sikkink
Español | Français

Despite increased criticism against the International Criminal Court, new evidence suggests that the ...

The ICC and beyond: tipping the scales of international justice

January 8, 2015
By: Ottilia Anna Maunganidze

International Criminal Court developments in 2014 have certainly been important, but we must also look ...

Throwing justice under the bus is not the way to go

December 11, 2014
By: Richard Dicker

Past experience suggests warnings that international criminal trials impede peace efforts are overblown. ...

ICC – threat or opportunity for Israel-Palestine?

December 4, 2014
By: Jessica Montell
العربية | עברית

Palestinian accession to the ICC could provide an impetus for Israel to resolve the issue of settlements ...

Justice denied? The ICC’s record in the DRC

December 3, 2014
By: Pascal Kambale

The ICC has pursued the "small fish" in the DRC, letting those most responsible for the worst crimes ...

The ‘interests of justice’ require challenging impunity

November 28, 2014
By: Dan Saxon

The ICC may consider the local context, but no policy or legal decision that permits impunity for gross ...

The politics of impunity little impacted by the ICC

November 27, 2014
By: Sarah Nouwen

The intervention of the ICC in some countries has many effects, but little impact on promoting real ...

‘Sovereignty’ no defence against ICC action in Sudan

November 20, 2014
By: Kamal Elgizouli
Español | العربية

Respect for ‘sovereignty’ is no defence against ICC action in Sudan, as the government claims. International ...

Intolerance of impunity does not make ICC an enemy of peace

November 18, 2014
By: Paul Seils

Demanding accountability for war crimes does make the job of peace mediators more difficult, but so ...

The International Criminal Court in Africa: a failed experiment?

November 11, 2014
By: Mwangi S. Kimenyi

Africa can benefit greatly from an International Criminal Court that is credible, fair, competent and ...

The surprising impact of the Rome Statute in India

November 7, 2014
By: Usha Ramanathan

Though India refuses to join the ICC, the Rome Statute has proved very useful in pushing for law reform ...

The ICC mustn’t give up in Kenya

November 6, 2014
By: Njonjo Mue

While the ICC has encountered serious challenges in Kenya, the Court has an important role to play in ...

The ICC and its impact: more known unknowns

November 5, 2014
By: Mark Kersten
Français | Español

When it comes to the ICC’s impact on peace processes, we actually know very little, which may be because ...

Does the ICC advance the interests of justice?

November 4, 2014
By: Priscilla Hayner
Français | Español

What exactly are the “interests of justice” in the context of the ICC? And should the ICC prosecutor ...

Introducing this week's theme: The International Criminal Court - from a troubled past, what future for International Justice?

November 3, 2014
By: David Petrasek & Archana Pandya

The Rome Statute established the ICC with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate ...