American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court
US & ICC

A History of Support for International Justice

AMICC Convener John Washburn speaking at Union Square in New York City. Hannah Dunphy/AMICC.

The US government has been a long-time leader in developing the standards of international criminal law now incorporated into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It was also an early advocate of establishing international criminal tribunals, from Nuremberg to the UN ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to the Special Court of Sierra Leone. As an early supporter of the ICC, it also made extraordinary contributions to the development of its Rome Statute. Significant examples of US leadership and effectiveness at the ICC negotiations include the inclusion in the jurisdiction of the Court of crimes committed during internal armed conflicts, and the drafting of a supplemental code explaining the precise actions and intent that must be proved for each of the crimes in the Statute, which the US Department of Defense found to be in complete accord with US military law.

However, from the beginning, the US sought to ensure that it could maintain control over the ICC, initially arguing that the UN Security Council should be able to decide whether or not the Court takes a case, and later insisting on an exemption for US servicemembers and officials. These suggestions were rejected by other nations as violating the Nuremberg principle of individual criminal accountability. Nevertheless, US concerns were addressed through compromise solutions, including basing the court on the principle of complementarity, which means that the US will always have a primary right to investigate, and if warranted, try any US national accused of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court.

Approaches of US Administrations

US administrations since the 1990s have taken dramatically different approaches to the ICC, including:

  • The Clinton administration's initial support for the Court, its contentious participation in the Rome Diplomatic conference that adopted the Rome Statute, and its eventual decision to sign the Rome Statute without then endorsing US ratification.
  • The Bush administration's hostility toward the ICC during the first term of office - including its Bilateral Immunity Agreement (BIA) Campaign - and eventual softening of its approach to the Court, including permitting the referral of the Darfur situation to the ICC.
  • The Obama administration's decision to participate in the ICC's Assembly of States Parties and to cooperate with the Court on a case-by-case basis, short of a comprehensive policy or ratification of the ICC treaty.

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Approaches of US Congress

The US Congress has reacted to the ICC with hearings, anti-ICC legislation and, more recently, supportive actions related to ICC investigations and cases.

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US Public Opinion & Polls

Among the American public, a series of polls show that 65-70% of respondents support immediate American participation in the Court and ratification of the Rome Statute. AMICC has found a strong public response in various parts of the country to the Court in the establishing of local alliances. As AMICC's membership attests, the ICC cause attracts a wide and diverse variety of organizations that believe that the Court will uniquely serve and promote the individual issues and objectives to which they are committed.

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