International Criminal Court at 15: International justice and the crisis of multilateralism

10-05-2017

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 1 July 2002 was heralded at the time as a major breakthrough for ending impunity for most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Fifteen years later, the record of the Court is mixed and criticism from both supporters and opponents has abounded. The challenges and the criticism it is currently facing are typical of many other multilateral institutions today. The Court has conducted investigations and trials on some of the world's most brutal conflicts, but it has faced criticism that it was politicised and biased against the African continent. The atrocities committed by groups such as ISIL/Da'esh have unveiled the ICC's limitations, since it is unable to investigate in Syria and Iraq, which are not parties to the Rome Statute, without UN Security Council authorisation. As a multilateral institution with universal ambitions, the Court is also limited in its effectiveness by the refusal of major powers such as the US, China and Russia to join it. Lack of cooperation by some states parties has also severely constrained its effectiveness. Yet the Court has had positive effects on the capacity of some states to deal themselves with crimes under their jurisdiction. The Court has taken its role seriously, not shying away from indicting persons of the highest rank, such as heads of state, and proving that it is committed to the principle of universal responsibility. Shortcomings in the prosecutorial investigations, for example in relation to witness interference and protection, have been addressed in a transparent and firm way.

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 1 July 2002 was heralded at the time as a major breakthrough for ending impunity for most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Fifteen years later, the record of the Court is mixed and criticism from both supporters and opponents has abounded. The challenges and the criticism it is currently facing are typical of many other multilateral institutions today. The Court has conducted investigations and trials on some of the world's most brutal conflicts, but it has faced criticism that it was politicised and biased against the African continent. The atrocities committed by groups such as ISIL/Da'esh have unveiled the ICC's limitations, since it is unable to investigate in Syria and Iraq, which are not parties to the Rome Statute, without UN Security Council authorisation. As a multilateral institution with universal ambitions, the Court is also limited in its effectiveness by the refusal of major powers such as the US, China and Russia to join it. Lack of cooperation by some states parties has also severely constrained its effectiveness. Yet the Court has had positive effects on the capacity of some states to deal themselves with crimes under their jurisdiction. The Court has taken its role seriously, not shying away from indicting persons of the highest rank, such as heads of state, and proving that it is committed to the principle of universal responsibility. Shortcomings in the prosecutorial investigations, for example in relation to witness interference and protection, have been addressed in a transparent and firm way.