International Criminal Court

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A permanent court to try individuals for the most serious offences of global concern. In July 1998, 160 nations signed the Statute of Rome in order to establish this court. Crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court are genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, such as widespread or systematic extermination of civilians, enslavement, torture, rape, forced pregnancy, persecution on political, racial, ethnic, or religious grounds, and enforced disappearances. Prior to the establishment of the Court offences had been tried by ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The Court set up by the statute of Rome is both permanent and has a jurisdiction extending to a large number of states. However, the Rome Statute provides that, except when the UN Security Council determines to the contrary, the ICC will be limited to the prosecution of crimes that take place on the territory of states that have ratified the Statute of Rome. The USA, despite having signed the Statute, has stated that it has no intention of ratifying the treaty. The Statute of the Court entered into force on 1 July 2002.

The ICC will be “complementary” to municipal tribunals, which will retain jurisdiction unless they are unable or unwilling genuinely to investigate and prosecute a crime. An incident may be referred to the ICC by the Security Council. Alternatively, a state party can refer a situation to the prosecutor, or the prosecutor can initiate an investigation on his or her own motion. If the prosecutor has determined that there is a reasonable basis to commence an investigation, he or she must inform all state parties and those states that would normally exercise jurisdiction over the alleged crime. Within one month, a state may inform the ICC that it is investigating, or has investigated, the alleged war crimes. The prosecutor must defer to the state's investigation unless the ICC determines that the state is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.

By means of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 British tribunals are empowered to try war crimes recognized by the Statute of Rome. The Act enables UK investigative bodies to investigate and prosecute any ICC crimes committed in this country, or committed overseas by a UK national, a UK resident, or a person subject to UK services jurisdiction. It also permits the UK to reach an agreement with the ICC so that persons convicted can serve prison sentences in this country. In July 2005 three British soldiers who had served in Iraq were charged under the Act with “inhuman treatment of persons.” They were to be tried by courts martial in the UK. See also International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Subjects: Law.

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