Understanding the ICC


Find a general briefing on the Court below. For more detailed information, head over to the ICC's official website. 



Located in the Hague, Netherlands, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first ever permanent, treaty-based, international criminal tribunal established to investigate and try individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Court was established to bring justice to victims of these atrocities and to hold individuals accountable who otherwise might go unpunished.



The ICC is comprised of four main bodies: the Presidency, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Registry and the three judicial divisions that oversee the case from start to finish: the Pretrial, Trial and Appeals divisions.


The Presidency has three main areas of responsibility:

  1. Judicial functions

  2. Administration

  3. External relations


The Presidency (comprised of a President and a first and second Vice President) is elected by an absolute majority of the Court's judges for a three year, renewable term. The current Presidency was elected in March of 2015.















The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is an independent organ of the Court, and thus is not under the Presidency’s authority. The OTP is responsible for examining reports of potential crimes (which are referred to in the court as situations), and carrying out the ensuing investigations and prosecutions against the accused individuals. Both the Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor are elected by the Assembly of State Parties for a non-renewable 9-year term.


Only the Prosecutor can bring charges against a suspect and prosecute the accused.


Fatou Bensouda

Prosecutor (Gambia)


James Stewart

Deputy Prosecutor (Canada)

There are 18 judges between the three Judicial Divisions: Pre-Trial, Trial, and Appeals. They are then split up into Pre-Trial, Trial, and Appeals chambers, respectively, and conduct judicial proceedings.


The Registry is tasked with the administration of the non-judicial aspects of the ICC, from security and detention, to the Court’s budget, to support for the defense, victims and witnesses. They also handle the logistics of the court. Translation and interpretation services are a major aspect of the Registry’s daily work.





The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of, and over crimes committed by the nationals of States Parties. Exceptions to this jurisdiction would be in instances where the UNSC has referred a specific situation to the Court or a non-State Party has agreed to accept the Court’s jurisdiction.


The ICC does not have retroactive jurisdiction; it can only hear cases alleging crimes that took place after the entry into force of the Rome Statute on July 1, 2002.


The ICC is only concerned with “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole” and with the individuals that had deliberately masterminded these wide-scale atrocities. Intent and level of the individual in the ‘chain of command’ are of critical importance for the Court.


Cases qualify for the ICC through three methods of opening a preliminary examination.  

  1. Referral by a State Party to the Prosecutor

  2. Referral by the UN Security Council to the Prosecutor

  3. The Prosecutor has initiated an investigation proprio motu with authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber




The Assembly of States Parties (ASP) is responsible for the management and oversight of the ICC, i.e. the "General Assembly" of the ICC. It is a legislative body composed of the States Parties that have ratified the Rome Statute. The ASP meets at least once a year, rotating between the Hague and New York.


The ASP's functions include:

  • Approval of the ICC's annual budget and financing of the Court;

  • Election and discipline of ICC judges and prosecutors;

  • Management oversight regarding the administration of the Court;

  • Establishment of subsidiary bodies, including of an Independent Oversight Mechanism;

  • Adopting amendments to the Rome Statute and the Court's Rules of Procedure and Evidence;

  • Consideration and adoption of resolutions; and

  • Consideration of questions of non-cooperation with the ICC.


In addition to the States Parties, other countries which have signed the Rome Statute or Final Act of the 1998 Rome diplomatic conference - including the United States - may participate as observers. Non-governmental organizations, under the umbrella of the international NGO Coalition for the ICC (CICC), also have accreditation to participate in ASP sessions. AMICC has participated in all of the ASP sessions and will be attending the upcoming ASP session in December of 2017 in New York City. The ASP is convened mainly in the Hague, but alternates every third year in New York at the United Nations. 




Will the US ever join the ICC?


Eventually, when the political situation is right, the United States will join the ICC. American values are very compatible with the core values espoused by the International Criminal Court. Public opinion polls demonstrate consistent and widespread public support for increased participation in the ICC. The more that Americans learn about the Court and its work, the more they support it, which makes AMICC’s advocacy all the more worthwhile.


What is complementarity?


Complementarity speaks to the right of any state to try accused persons through its national court system. The ICC is intended to work in tandem with governments and as such will always defer to the national court system, except in situations where the domestic legal system is either incapable or unwilling to genuinely prosecute.  


What are the crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction, and what do they entail?


There are three crimes currently within the Court’s jurisdiction, with a fourth (the crime of aggression) to be potentially added later this year.


  1. Genocide

  2. War Crimes

  3. Crimes Against Humanity


Particularly in the case of war crimes, there is a distinction made between conflicts of an international character and those of a non-international character. For the most part, the specific crimes that qualify are the same between the two categories.


More information on the specific crimes can be found in the Rome Statute: Articles 6, 7, and 8.


Whose interests does the ICC serve?


The Court serves the interests of the international community at large, and particularly works to advocate for and help the victims of atrocities. As an independent and impartial body, the Court is committed to the pursuit of justice, especially in situations when the individuals responsible for large-scale crimes hold positions of power and influence that render them otherwise untouchable. The ICC works to create accountability on an international level, prosecuting individuals for the worst of crimes. Even the makeup of the Court’s organs, from the Presidency to the Office of the Prosecutor, is designed to reflect the entire international community: from equal representation of men and women to fair geographic distribution.


Why is there no death penalty?


As the United States is the minority of countries that still use capital punishment, it would have never been feasible to include the death penalty in the Court’s mandate. The international consensus is overwhelmingly anti-death penalty and, as such, the Rome Statute would have never been supported if it had included the death penalty.  


Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi
President, (Argentina)
Judge Joyce Aluoch
First Vice-President, (Kenya)
Judge Kuniko Ozaki
Second Vice-President, (Japan)

© 2017 AMICC All Rights Reserved. A Program of Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

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