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International Criminal Court


In the prospect of an international criminal court lies the promise of universal justice... no ruler, no State, no junta and no army anywhere can abuse human rights with impunity. Only then will the innocents of distant wars and conflicts know that they, too, may sleep under the cover of justice; that the, too, have rights, and that those who violate those rights will be punished.

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

Is an International Court Needed?

We need an International Criminal Court to achieve justice by holding individuals accountable; to end impunity; to help end conflicts and ease the transition to peace; to remedy the deficiencies of ad hoc tribunals; to ensure justice when national criminal justice institutions are unwilling or unable to act, and to deter future war crimes.

An international criminal court was originally envisaged in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Check what your country has ratified

But it was not until a meeting in Rome in 1998 that the international community finally agreed to work towards its establishment.

Aim of the Court

The International Criminal Court will try individuals accused of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Based in the Hague, it will have 18 judges and its own Prosecutor.

It should not be confused with the International Court of Justice, also at the Hague, which was established under the UN Charter in 1945 to settle disputes between countries.

Coming after limited tribunals for Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, the International Criminal Court is seen as the most significant international tribunal since the courts established to try Nazi leaders after World War II and the most important advancement in human rights protection since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Court was formally established after 60 countries ratified the Rome Statute. On 1 July, 2002, it entered into force. It currently has around 125 signatories and 27 ratifications. Senegal and the European Union are some of its strongest supporters. But although former President Clinton was keen, strong opposition exists in the USA.


The nomination period for the election of the judges and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court was opened on 9 September. The nomination period will close on 30 November 2002. First election is scheduled for the first resumed session of the Assembly of States Parties, to be held from 3 to 7 February 2003.

For nearly half a century - almost as long as the United Nations has been in existence - the General Assembly has recognized the need to establish such a court to prosecute and punish persons responsible for crimes such as genocide. Many thought... that the horrors of the Second World War - the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust - could never happen again. And yet they have, in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda. Our time - this decade even - has shown us that man's capacity for evil knows no limits. Genocide . . . is now a word of our time, too, a heinous reality that calls for a historic response."

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General


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