Ten years, $900m, one verdict: Does the ICC cost too much?

Fighters of the Patriotic Force of Resistance for Ituri militia (FRPI) in 2006

The International Criminal Court has delivered its first judgement, after a decade in existence, and spending nearly $1bn. Critics say it costs too much, but is this fair?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) currently has an annual budget of over $140m (£90m) and 766 staff.

Since its inception, its estimated expenditure has been around $900m (£600m).

With only one completed trial to show for a decade of effort and expenditure, the ICC has faced regular criticism that it sucks in investment with few results to show for it.

Indeed, this is a common refrain at the regular annual meeting in The Hague of the Assembly of States Parties which funds the court.

Start Quote

You can't compare the cost of international justice with shopping at a supermarket”

End Quote Philippe Sands QC University College London

Some 120 states have ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and as its paymasters, many cite the slow pace of prosecutions as justification for shaving a few millions off the agreed budget.

But to point to one trial, that of the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, and argue that it has cost X millions, would be both unfair and misleading.

After all, the ICC budget has to pay for staff salaries, building rental, global travel, intensive investigations in often hostile terrain, translators, for the defence teams, for legal aid for defendants and victims and so on.

The court registry - the administrative heart of the tribunal - pays most of these bills, which explains why it takes up around half of the budget. So the impression, on paper, that the bureaucrats are getting a disproportionate slice of the cake, is misleading.

Are there useful comparisons to be made between the permanent ICC and the so-called ad hoc tribunals set up to investigate and prosecute those who bore the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR)?

The annual budget for the ICTY has gone up 500-fold since it began life in 1993.

In custody

Thomas Lubanga

One conviction: Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga found guilty of recruiting child soldiers

There are four suspects in ICC custody:

  • Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo
  • DRC: Germain Katanga, Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui
  • CAR: Jean-Pierre Bemba

Then, it was a modest $276,000 (£176,000). For the two-year period 2010-11, it had risen to over $301m (£192m).

Over this period, more than 60 people have been convicted and proceedings against 40-plus defendants are still ongoing. It employs 869 staff.

The ICTR budget for 2010-2011 was $257m (£165m) and it has 750 posts. It has completed almost 50 trials since it was established in 1994.

But costs for both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals are on a clear downward trend now, as they begin the process of winding up their work.

On these figures alone, the ICC comes out poorly in a value for money contest.

But whereas the ad hoc tribunals are geographically focused, the ICC has a global remit and has to engage in often lengthy negotiations with national judicial systems to attempt to meet its goals.

It is also true that the early phases of the Lubanga trial, which began in January 2009, were stretched out by procedural litigation which might be expected in a virgin court.

However, the trial could and should have started many months earlier had not the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo refused to disclose hundreds of documents which might have aided the defence case. The stand-off over this issue almost led to Lubanga being freed and the whole trial collapsing.

This points to a failing common to many of the international tribunals, which is a tendency by the prosecution to have one eye on the bar of history by presenting an overblown case, rather than one which is more tightly focused and can be completed within a realistic timescale.

ICC in brief

Chief prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo (l) talks to an unidentified member of his legal team (r). AFP
  • Set up in 2002
  • Based in The Hague, the Netherlands
  • Deals with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression
  • Prosecutor is Luis Moreno-Ocampo (above left) and it has 18 judges
  • Investigating cases in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Darfur in Sudan, Kenya, Libya and Ivory Coast
  • 15 cases brought before the court so far - three are at trial stage

Source: ICC factsheet

Even staunch defenders of international criminal justice, such as Professor Philippe Sands QC, of University College London, say this is a legitimate concern.

"Yes, there are questions about processes. Are the rules of procedure too cumbersome? Should the indictments be more narrowly drawn?"

However, questions about its budget need to be seen in context, Sands says.

"The costs of the Lubanga trial and the ICC as a whole are small compared to the global aid budget, and completely irrelevant as compared with defence spending."

Even before the current global recession, the mounting costs of international justice and questions over legitimacy had begun to bother governments.

This is why the favoured course over the past decade has been to set up "hybrid" tribunals, which are a collaboration between the international community and individual states.

The prime examples are Cambodia, East Timor, and perhaps most successfully, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is dealing with the trial of the former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

But these tribunals are all time-limited. The only permanent criminal court is the ICC and, as such, will continue to attract criticism.

It is, however, a long-term project and arguably still in its early days, and as Sands points out, some things do not come with a clear price tag: "You can't compare the cost of international justice with shopping at a supermarket."

Correction: An earlier version of this report used figures based on an annual budget for the ICTY and ICTR, when in fact they both now operate with a biennial budget. The figures have been amended and an associated graph removed.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The ICC is a waste of money and part of the New World Order agenda to unify all nations under one governing body. The UN is also part of that and the EU, European parliament, European court and all the other ridiculous "European bodies" are simply stepping stones to that agenda.

    All those groups and leaders are luciferian / masonic / satanists by the way

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Bureacracy gone mad. Yet another bonanza for legal begals and their thousands of support staff and, I suspect, very little else. I wait for the EU Court of HR to overturn any guilty verdicts as the human rights of the perpetrators win out yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Wow yes just used just against the 3rd world and Africa when was the last time a european leader killed and tortured their own people

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    It might be worth this amount if the tried the correct people such as Bush and Blair but it's odd that they only pursue naughty people in poor or third world countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Complete and utter waste of public money.

    Most if not every person even considered to be tried by this court should be tried by there own citizens.

    The death sentance (Which I personally do not approve of), may make you squirm a bit. But allowing these criminals to suffer the wrath of there own criminal justice systems, what ever sentance that may be, should be perfectly acceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    #16 "are the lives of the 60,000 people where killed in this conflict wort less than $15K each?"

    It is the lawers et al who got the money not the victims!

    The question is whether the organisation is worth $90m a year for just an average of 1.5 cases?

    Seems rather pricey. The victims and their familes would have better use for the cash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    The criteria for pursuing prosecutions will not be a level playing field. International politics throws up strange bedfellows, always has and always will.

    If some of the bleeding heart liberals currently prevalent were to pass judgement on Adolf Hitler he would probably get community service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    You can't put a price on justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    £900m and 10 years is absolutely unacceptable for a credible justice system. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    I studied International Criminal Law at University and soon learnt the reason for this. Every document is about 1000 pages long. They need some reformation of the system to make it far more efficient, with further international support and recognition of its jurisdiction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I want you all to know the reality - Terrible crimes yes. Having worked in the ICC, ICTY Bosnia, ICTR Rwanda, Lebanon tribunal. It is about big legal egos, diplomatic privileges, tax free perks + laughing all the way to the bank, quaffing champagne + pontificating about 'international justice'. Does it change things on the ground? Ha! No way! Put the money into local courts + local justice reforms

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I will give you my opinion on this free lunch after you deposit the £100,000,000 consultation fee into my account!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    As we don't have atrocities and despots in our own country, I guess we should send out the message to the rest of the world that we don't care and they should get on with whatever crimes against humanity they wish. Are you watching Syria?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    As pointless and toothless as the UN

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It's worth every penny not only to bring these corrupt 3rd world despots to justice, but to deter other Caibans from their state gangsterism.

    Let's see it step up its actions, especially where it's also urgently needed - against the tyrants in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and other Middle Eastern tyrannies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Is this a more suitable venue for a more forensic examination of individuals at the centre of say the last Iraq war or should we leave it to the likes of Sir John Chilcot & co?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    As a law student I'd be lying if I said I hadn't googled "why do lawyers get paid so much/why do trials cost so much" on several occasions.

    It's hard going and complicated, but it's not THAT complicated. Surely hitting one of these unbelievably unashamed, blatantly obvious war criminals with significant legal charges is a bit like hitting a barn door with a skittle from 20 yards away?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Yes - there has to be an ultimate authority. We cannot let people like this get away with genocide. And over time they may even see a deterrent value. In the interim we need this court to work, build its credentials and status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Wow! Almost everybody who has commented so far, has absolutley no idea what they are talking about. but got to HYS anyway right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    When Barack Obama and several top officials were visiting Europe, an urgent message was sent to the ICC to demand their immediate arrest for multiple violations of international law regarding the premeditated murder of Osama bin Laden. The ICC ignored the request.
    To be fair, though, the Met also ignored a message reminding it of its obligation under international treaty to arrest war criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This court should be re-named the International Criminal Court for Africa (ICCA) and its headquarters transferred to Africa. This will among other benefits, reduce costs as investigators will be closer to the crime scenes and the victims. The courts unstated aim is to investigate only crimes committed in Africa, so why base it so far away?


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