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Basic Fact Sheet

International Criminal Court


The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent tribunal that can investigate and try individuals for the most serious international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The ICC is the first standing court of its kind, a unique and important development in the history of human rights protection and international justice. The court can only act in cases where states are unwilling or unable to do so - known as the principle of complementarity.


The International Criminal Court will prosecute individuals - not states. The court consists of eighteen elected judges and an elected prosecutor, who will lead investigations and try cases. These officials were elected by those states who have ratified the treaty.


On July 17, 1998, one hundred and twenty countries voted to adopt the treaty outlining the establishment and structure of the International Criminal Court. Since then as of July 18, 2008, 108 countries have ratified it. The treaty entered into force on July 1, 2002. The court can only take cases that occur after that date. This means that crimes committed before July 1, 2002, cannot be brought to the court Ė this is known as non-retroactivity.


The International Criminal Court is based in The Hague, The Netherlands. The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territories of ratifying states and over crimes committed anywhere by nationals of ratifying states. States that do not ratify the treaty can choose to accept the court's jurisdiction in particular cases. These states, and all states parties, must cooperate with the courtís investigations and prosecutions.


The International Criminal Court will bring the most serious international criminals to justice and challenge the impunity that they have so often enjoyed in the past. Until the courtís creation, those who committed atrocities have gotten away with it and their victims left with nothing. The ICC can provide redress and reparations for the victims and survivors of these atrocities, which is a vital step towards accountability and lasting justice.


There are three ways that cases can be brought to the International Criminal Court. Both a state that has joined the treaty and the Security Council of the United Nations can refer a situation to the court for investigation. In addition, the ICC prosecutor can start an investigation based on information that he receives from victims, non-governmental organizations, or any other reliable source. The ICC will rely on state cooperation in its investigation and prosecution of cases. The ICC will not have its own police force and will work side by side with national authorities.