International Criminal Court (ICC)

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Menu: What is the ICC? | When can cases be brought to the ICC? | Children and the ICC | Who can bring cases to the ICC? | Provisions for victims | NGOs participation | The Coalition for the ICC | The ICC and the International Criminal Court of Justice | The USA and the ICC |


What is the ICC?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Thomas Lubanga from the Democratic Republic of Congo became the first person to be charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the war crime of enlisting children under 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In January 2007, the pre-trial Chamber decided to proceed with a full trial against Lubanga. In August 2011, two and a half years after the trial began, the Chamber officially closed the trial phase of the ICC's first case.

When can cases be brought to the ICC?

The Rome Statute, which established the ICC, came into force in July 2002. The Court is not authorised to prosecute any crimes committed before the Statute came into force.

To date, the Statute has been ratified by 119 countries. This means they agree to prosecute the crimes listed in the Rome Statute where these crimes are committed on their territory or where they are perpetrated by one of their nationals.

The ICC is designed to complement existing national judicial systems. Cases can only be examined by the ICC when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute such crimes, thus acting as a ‘court of last resort’. Primary responsibility to bring alleged criminals to justice falls to individual States.

Children and the ICC

All crimes under the ICC's jurisdiction affect children. Genocide includes the forcible transfer of children from one group to another, with the intention of destroying a particular national, racial, ethnic or religious group. Crimes against humanity include trafficking in children. War crimes include recruiting and using children in armed conflict, attacking schools or hospitals and wilfully starving a population as a method of warfare.

The Rome Statute of 17 July 1998 was the first treaty to make the recruitment of child soldiers a crime under international law. Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Convention of 1977 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) created an obligation on the part of States to refrain from recruiting child soldiers, but did not make it a crime.

The Lubanga case is the first time the recruitment and use of children in armed forces, which is a war crime according to Article 8 of the Statute, has been given such a high profile in an international tribunal.

Six children - who were 10 years old at the time - are cited in the indictment against Lubanga, who led the Union of Congolese Patriots militia. Their experiences are said to reflect those of hundreds of other children. 

The ICC is also currently investigating situations in Uganda, Darfur, the Central African Republic and monitoring the situation in Cote d’Ivoire. It issued an indictment against five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda including commander Joseph Kony in October 2005 for crimes against humanity which include the abduction and sexual enslavement of children. The first Darfur war crimes suspects were named in February 2007.

Who can bring cases to the ICC?

Cases can be brought by a State Party to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor or the UN Security Council.

What provisions does the ICC make for victims?

Participation in the Court’s proceedings will, in most cases, take place through a legal representative. The victim-based provisions of the Rome Statute give victims an opportunity to have their voices heard and, where appropriate, to obtain some form of reparation for their suffering.


How can NGOs participate in the ICC's work?

NGO staff are often the first people to witness massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law through their work with affected populations on the ground. This gives NGOs privileged access to information and testimonies from victims and witnesses and has led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to call upon them to provide vital evidence and to raise awareness about the ICC’s activities among people on the ground.

However, while many NGOs support the ICC’s aims and remit, engagement with the Court raises some challenges:

  • If ICC investigations are undertaken during ongoing conflict, association with the investigation can potentially put children and their families in danger.
  • The ICC is a political body; engaging with it can erode NGOs’ impartial stance, which can affect the security of the people they work with and that of staff members, as well as access to communities where they want to work.
  • Its political nature also means locally-led peace processes that may be ongoing could be disrupted.
  • In practical terms, collecting evidence can be difficult because most NGO staff are not trained investigators.
  • NGOs’ first priority is to protect the confidentiality of their beneficiaries.
  • NGOs may not have the capacity to appropriately document cited violations.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court is a global network of over 2,000 NGOs which advocates for a fair, effective and independent Court.

Find out how your NGO can become a member here


What is the difference between the ICC and the International Criminal Court of Justice?

The ICJ is a civil tribunal that deals primarily with disputes between States. The ICJ is a principal judicial organ of the UN whereas the ICC is independent of the UN. Both are based in the Hague, the Netherlands.


The USA and the ICC

The Former US President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute on 31 December 2000. Shortly after the Bush administration came to power and just before the 1 July 2002 entry into force of the Statute, current US President George W. Bush nullified Clinton’s signature on 6 May 2002. Since then, the US has launched a full-scale campaign against the ICC, claiming that it may initiate politically motivated prosecutions against US nationals. This has included bilateral immunity agreements and refusing aid to States who are members of the ICC. However, in November 2006, the US issued a limited waiver on these aid cuts (read more here). The Obama administration, so far, has been more supportive of the ICC.

For more information on the USA's relationship with the ICC, read more here.

Background information

Human Rights Watch: Children's Rights and the International Criminal Court

Amnesty International: Factsheet - Ensuring justice for children

The American Non Governmental Organisations Coalition for the International Criminal Court: The International Criminal Court and Children's Rights

Special edition of CRINMAIL on the ICC


REDRESS: Victims, Perpetrators or Heroes? Child soldiers before the International Criminal Court (September 2006)

Coalition for an International Criminal Court: The International Criminal Court and Child Victims of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (August 2001)

Terre des Hommes - Italy: ICC and Children's Voice. International Criminal Court and Children Victims Of International Criminal Exploitation (June 2001)


War Crimes Studies Centre, University of California, Berkeley

Crimes of War Project

Victims' Rights Working Group



    Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.