International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is a treaty based, international criminal court established to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although the crime of aggression is also listed, the Court will not exercise jurisdiction with respect of this crime until an acceptable definition has been agreed upon by states.
The Court is an independent international organisation with a special relationship with the United Nations. It is complementary to national jurisdictions in that it may only proceed with a case where a state is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute. The Statute of the Court, known as the Rome Statute, was adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002.
Because submission to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court entails a partial transfer to the Court of the sovereign power of the State to administer criminal justice, it was necessary to amend the Irish Constitution prior to ratification. To this end, the twenty-third amendment of the Constitution inserted Article 29.9, providing that the State may ratify the Rome Statute. Ireland has ratified the Statute and accordingly is a member of the Assembly of State Parties. In addition, an Irish lawyer, Judge Maureen Harding Clark, served as a judge of the Court in the Court's Trial Division from 2003 until 2006.
The Rome Statute deals with the establishment of the Court, its jurisdiction and the general principles of criminal law to be applied. It sets out the composition of the Court and its administration, the procedures for investigation, prosecution and trial, the penalties which can be imposed on conviction, and provides for appeals.
The procedures under the Statute guarantee respect for the rights of the accused and will ensure that due process will be observed. There is an obligation on the States Parties to cooperate with the Court, and provision is also made for the enforcement of the judgements of the Court and for the carrying out of sentences. The Statute, furthermore, provides for an Assembly of States Parties, as a “management oversight and legislative body”, and for the financing of the Court.
Article 5 of the Statute sets out that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community” namely, the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression are within the jurisdiction of the Court. The Court will exercise jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed after the date on which the Statute enters into force. The Court will, however, not exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until a provision is adopted by the States Parties defining the crime and setting out the conditions under which the Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to this crime. A review conference is to be held seven years after the entry into force of the Statute and a provision governing the crime of aggression may be adopted at this Conference.
The definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes contained in the Statute codify existing international law.
The definition of genocide is identical to that contained in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It involves the following acts when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures to prevent births within the group or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The concept of crimes against humanity also embraces particularly serious violations of human rights - violations such as murder, extermination, slavery, forcible transfer of population, unlawful imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution of a group, enforced disappearance and apartheid - when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population. Crimes against humanity can be committed in time both of war and of peace.
War crimes include grave breaches of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 which provide for the care of wounded and sick members of the armed forces, the treatment of prisoners of war and the protection of civilians in time of armed conflict. Further examples of war crimes, for the purpose of the Rome Statute, include attacks during armed conflict against civilians, and against humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, attacks directed against religious, educational and cultural buildings, pillaging, rape, sexual slavery and enforced prostitution and the use of child soldiers.
The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's website on the International Criminal Court provides detailed and extensive information on the structure and the history of the ICC and includes in-depth materials on topics such as victims rights, the rights of the accused, gender and the ICC.