International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court (ICC), first permanent world court created specifically to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity, est. 2002; located at the Hague, Netherlands. More than 110 nations have ratified the treaty that founded the court; those that have not include China, Russia, and the United States. The first judges were formally sworn in in 2003.

The ICC inaugurated its first investigations in 2004 when it began looking into crimes in Congo (Kinshasa) and Uganda. Its first arrest warrants were issued (2005) for five leaders of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army, which was accused of causing nearly 20 years of conflict. In 2005 the United Nations voted to refer war crimes cases in Sudan's Darfur region to the ICC, and the subsequent issuing (2009) of a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's President Omar Ahmed al-Bashir in connection with war crimes and other offenses in Darfur has been the ICC's most notable action. Enforcement of the the warrant, however, is dependent on the cooperation of national governments.

Among its other significant cases has been that of former Congolese rebel leader and interim vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was arrested (2008) in Belgium and was convicted in 2016 of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic by a militia he headed; the verdict was later (2018) overturned. ICC judges also authorized (2010) the investigation of those responsible for murder, rape, and forced displacement in the ethnic violence that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya, and in Dec., 2010, six prominent Kenyans, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, were accused of crimes against humanity. A lack of cooperation from Kenya, where Kenyatta was elected president in 2013, led to the case's collapse. The ICC issued its first verdict in Mar., 2012, when Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, was convicted of having used child soldiers in an ethnic conflict in E Congo; his trial had begun in 2009. The first case involving the destruction of cultural artifacts and heritage involved Ahmad al-Faqi al-Madhi, who was tried and convicted (2016) of destroying historic Islamic shrines and other sites in Mali during fighting in 2012. Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese militia leader and general, was found guilty in 2019 of having committed various war crimes, including sexual slavery, when he led (2002–3) a militia in the conflict in E Congo.

In 2016 the African Union accused the court of targeting African leaders (though most investigations were the result of country government or UN requests), and a number of African nations have announced that they would withdraw from the ICC. Burundi, which was the subject of a preliminary investigation (beginning in 2016) into the political violence there, withdrew in 2017. The Philippines withdrew in 2019; Rodrigo Duterte, its president, who had supported attacks on alleged criminals and was accused of crimes against humanity, was the subject of a preliminary investigation.

In 1998, when the UN General Assembly approved a treaty authorizing a permanent international court for war crimes, China, Russia, the United States, and four other nations opposed the treaty, and 21 nations abstained. The United States subsequently signed the agreement, but the G. W. Bush administration opposed its implementation, fearing that American officials or military personnel might be arrested abroad on baseless charges. In May, 2002, with the treaty a few weeks away from taking effect, the United States repudiated the document and indicated that it would not cooperate with the court. The U.S. government subsequently insisted (2002, 2003) that American forces used as UN peacekeepers be exempted from prosecution by the court, and in 2003 it suspended military aid to nations that did not similarly exempt U.S. citizens serving within their borders. In 2004, following the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, the United States was unable to secure a further exemption from the UN. In 2020 the Trump administration authorized the imposition of sanctions against court staff investigating Americans for war crimes in Afghanistan or Israelis for war crimes against Palestinians.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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