What is the International Criminal Court (ICC)? Ask Doc Bonn

            Dr. Scott Bonn,Doc Bonn

 The world community has been concerned about genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes throughout the centuries.  Finally, in 2002, a treaty-based court, called the International Criminal Court (ICC), was established in The Hague, The Netherlands, for the prosecution of international war crimes committed on or after that date.

 The ICC is the first ever permanent international institution, with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals responsible for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.  The ICC was established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, so named because it was adopted in Rome, Italy on July 17, 1998 by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court.  The Rome Statute is an international treaty, binding only on those states which formally express their consent to be bound by its provisions.  Upon ratifying it, these states become formal “Parties” to the Rome Statute.  The Rome Statute entered into force on July 1, 2002 after ratification by 60 countries.  To date, 121 countries, with the notable exceptions of the U.S. and China, have become Parties to the Statute.

The ICC is an independent international organization, and is not part of the United Nations system.  However, the jurisdiction and functioning of the ICC are governed by the Rome Statute, which is a treaty that was initiated by the United Nations.  The ICC has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, i.e., genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Each of these crimes is clearly defined in the Rome Statute and other relevant texts such as the Geneva Conventions.   The Rome Statute clearly stipulates that acting in an official capacity as a head of state, member of government or parliament or as an elected representative or public official in no way exempts a person from prosecution or criminal responsibility.  Superiors or military commanders may be held responsible for criminal offenses committed by persons under their effective command and control or effective authority and control.

According to the Rome Statute, the specific crimes of war that may be prosecuted by the ICC include:

  1. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, such as:

1) Willful killing, or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health 2)Torture or inhumane treatment

3) Unlawful wanton destruction or appropriation of property

4) Forcing a prisoner of war to serve in the forces of a hostile power

5) Depriving a prisoner of war of a fair trial

6) Unlawful deportation, confinement or transfer

7) Taking hostages

  1. The following acts as part of an international conflict:

1) Directing attacks against civilians

2) Directing attacks against humanitarian workers or U.N. peacekeepers

3) Killing a surrendered combatant

4) Misusing a flag of truce

5) Settlement of occupied territory

6) Deportation of inhabitants of occupied territory

7) Using poison weapons

8) Using civilians as shields

9) Using child soldiers

  1. The following acts as part of a non-international conflict:

1) Murder, cruel or degrading treatment and torture

2) Directing attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers or U.N. peacekeepers

3) Taking hostages

4) Summary execution

5) Pillage

6) Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution or forced pregnancy

However, the ICC only has jurisdiction over these crimes where they are part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.  Additionally, the ICC only tries those accused of the gravest crimes, and due to resource limitations (as it is primarily funded by state parties) it is not in a position to bring to justice every person who has committed crimes of concern to the international community.

 The ICC is intended to complement, not to replace, national criminal justice systems.  In this regard, the ICC is a court of last resort.  Proceedings before the ICC may be initiated by a state party, the prosecutor or the United Nations Security Council.  It will not act if a case is investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system unless the national proceedings are not genuine; for example, if formal proceedings were undertaken solely to shield a person from criminal responsibility.  Also, the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over international crimes only if they were committed on the territory of a state party or by one of its nationals.  These conditions, however, do not apply if a situation is referred to the prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council, whose resolutions are binding on all U.N. member states, or if a state makes a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC.

 Although the U.S. originally voted against the adoption of the Rome Statute, President Bill Clinton unexpectedly reversed his position on December 31, 2000, and signed the treaty but indicated that he would not recommend that his successor, George W. Bush, submit it to the Senate for ratification.  On May 6, 2002, the Bush administration announced that it was nullifying the U.S. signature of the treaty.  The main objections to the ICC offered by the Bush administration were interference with national sovereignty and a fear of politically motivated prosecutions.  President Barack Obama has taken no action to change the U.S. position on the ICC he inherited from G.W. Bush.

The refusal of the U.S. to recognize the authority of the ICC over its citizens places it at odds with almost all of its staunchest international allies. Ironically, however, it puts the U.S. in alignment with China, a nation that the U.S. has frequently accused of human rights violations.  Similarly, Iran, Iraq and North Korea do not recognize the court’s authority.  The refusal to recognize the ICC thus aligns the U.S. with the G.W. Bush administration’s so-called axis of evil in rejecting international consensus on war crimes.

How does the refusal of the U.S. to recognize the authority of the ICC make you feel?  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Please submit your comments below or email me directly at docbonn1@gmail.com.  Follow me @DocBonn on Twitter.

  Dr. Scott Bonn,Mass Deception  Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about the public’s fascination with serial killers.

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Posted on May 2, 2012, in Political and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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