Prosecuting the Perpetrators of International Crimes (FAQ)

Criminal investigation and prosecution. The legal framework of Rome Statute is based on respect for individual rights and freedoms and included mechanisms to ensure impartial justice.  According to the preamble to the Rome Statute, the primary mandate of the ICC is “to put an end” to impunity for the perpetrators of “unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity.” The ICC and the UN Security Council (International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council) both are governing body of this legal framework, ultimately concerned with the peace, security and wellbeing of the world.

The ICC could not be viewed as an “extraordinary or special court”, the latter being national courts which replace ordinary courts and which do not apply established legal procedures. The definition of the crime(s) is taken over from the Statute of the International Criminal Court. By prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators, the Court does not only do justice to the immediate victims of those crimes, but it does also contribute to the cause of peace and justice in the world in two ways: deterring future commission of similar crimes, and averting self-help or retaliatory measures by the victims and their sympathizers.

What is the International Criminal Court?
The International Criminal Court (“the ICC” or “the Court”) is a permanent international court established to investigate, prosecute and try individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, namely the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
What is the Rome Statute?

On 17 July 1998, a conference of 160 States established the first treaty-based permanent international criminal court. The treaty adopted during that conference is known as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Among other things, it sets out the crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC, the rules of procedure and the mechanisms for States to cooperate with the ICC. The countries which have accepted these rules are known as States Parties and are represented in the Assembly of States Parties.

The Assembly of States Parties, which meets at least once a year, sets the general policies for the administration of the Court and reviews its activities. During those meetings, the States Parties review the activities of the working groups established by the States and any other issues relevant to the ICC, discuss new projects and adopt the ICC’s annual budget.

How does the ICC differ from other courts?
The ICC is a permanent autonomous court, whereas the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as other similar courts established within the framework of the United Nations to deal with specific situations only have a limited mandate and jurisdiction. The ICC, which tries individuals, is also different from the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations for the settlement of disputes between States. The ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice also have their seats in The Hague.
Is the ICC meant to replace national courts?
No. The ICC does not replace national criminal justice systems; rather, it complements them. It can investigate and, where warranted, prosecute and try individuals only if the State concerned does not, cannot or is unwilling genuinely to do so. This might occur where proceedings are unduly delayed or are intended to shield individuals from their criminal responsibility. This is known as the principle of complementarity, under which priority is given to national systems. States retain primary responsibility for trying the perpetrators of the most serious of crimes.
Which crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC?
The mandate of the Court is to try individuals rather than States, and to hold such persons accountable for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, namely the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression, when the conditions for the exercise of the Court’s jurisdiction over the latter are fulfilled.
What are crimes against humanity?

“Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

  • murder;
  • extermination;
  • enslavement;
  • deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  • imprisonment;
  • torture;
  • rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds;
  • enforced disappearance of persons;
  • the crime of apartheid;

other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.

How do cases come before the Court?
Any State Party to the Rome Statute can request the Prosecutor to carry out an investigation. A State not party to the Statute can also accept the jurisdiction of the ICC with respect to crimes committed in its territory or by one of its nationals, and request the Prosecutor to carry out an investigation.

The United Nations Security Council may also refer a situation to the Court. When the Court’s jurisdiction is triggered by the Security Council, the duty to cooperate extends to all UN Member States, regardless of whether or not they are a Party to the Statute.

Can the Prosecutor decide on his own initiative to open an investigation?
Yes, if the Office of the Prosecutor receives reliable information about crimes involving nationals of a State Party or of a State which has accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC, or about crimes committed in the territory of such a State, and concludes that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. Such information can be provided by individuals, intergovernmental or non-governmental organisations, or any other reliable sources. The Prosecutor must, however, obtain the permission of the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber before initiating an investigation under such circumstances. For example, on 26 November 2009, the Prosecution sought authorisation to open an investigation with regard to the post-election violence in Kenya. Pre-Chamber II granted the Prosecutor’s request on 31 March 2010.
How many investigations are ongoing and where?

The Office of the Prosecutor is currently conducting investigations on crimes allegedly committed in seven states: Sudan (for the situation in Darfur), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire.

In addition, the Office of the Prosecutor is currently conducting preliminary analysis in eight situations: Afghanistan, Colombia, the Republic of Korea, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria and Palestine.

Will the ICC prosecute all persons suspected of committing the crimes?
No. The Court will not be able to bring to justice every person suspected of committing crimes of concern to the international community. The prosecutorial policy of the Office of the Prosecutor is to focus its investigations and prosecutions on those who, having regard to the evidence gathered, bear the greatest responsibility for such crimes.
Who has to execute the warrants of arrest?

The responsibility to enforce warrants of arrest in all cases remains with States. In establishing the ICC, the States set up a system based on two pillars. The Court itself is the judicial pillar. The operational pillar belongs to States, including the enforcement of Court’s orders.

States Parties to the Rome Statute have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC. When a State Party fails to comply with a request to cooperate, the Court may make a finding to that effect and refer the matter for further action to the Assembly of States Parties.

When the Court’s jurisdiction is triggered by the Security Council, the duty to cooperate extends to all UN Member States, regardless of whether or not they are a Party to the Statute. The crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court are the gravest crimes known to humanity and as provided for by article 29 of the Statute they shall not be subject to any statute of limitations. Warrants of arrest are lifetime orders and therefore individuals still at large will sooner or later face the Court.

What penalties may be imposed by the Court?

The judges may impose a prison sentence, to which may be added a fine or forfeiture of the proceeds, property and assets derived directly or indirectly from the crime committed. The Court cannot impose a death sentence. The maximum sentence is 30 years. However, in extreme cases, the Court may impose a term of life imprisonment.


Rome Statute is available in the following languages:-

Adoption: 17.07.1998 Entry into Force: 01.07.2002 – English, Español, Français and Arabic


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