The ICC was created to bring justice to the world’s worst war criminals, but debate over the court still rages.
WRITTEN BY Claire Klobucista
UPDATED Last updated March 28, 2022 2:00 pm (EST)
- The ICC seeks to investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave offenses such as genocide and war crimes.
- Dozens of countries are not ICC members, including China, India, Russia, and the United States.
- The court has angered nonmembers by launching probes into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and Ukraine.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002, seeks to hold to account those guilty of some of the world’s worst crimes. Champions of the court say it deters would-be war criminals, bolsters the rule of law, and offers justice to victims of atrocities. But, since its inception, the court has faced considerable setbacks. It has been unable to gain the support of major powers, including the United States, China, and Russia, who say it undermines national sovereignty. Two countries have withdrawn from the court, and many African governments complain that the court has singled out Africa. U.S. opposition to the ICC hardened under President Donald Trump, and although the Joe Biden administration has taken a more conciliatory approach, tensions remain.
What are the court’s origins?
In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied powers launched the first international war crimes tribunal, known as the Nuremberg Trials, to prosecute top Nazi officials. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that many governments coalesced around the idea of a permanent court to hold perpetrators to account for the world’s most serious crimes. The United Nations had previously set up ad hoc international criminal tribunals to deal with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but many international law experts considered them inefficient and inadequate deterrents.