The United States was 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 service members 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 American cases first, and if warranted, try any US national accused of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court.

US and the ICC

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