This week the Caribbean Island nation of St. Lucia became the 113th nation to ratify the Treaty of Rome and become a member of International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC treaty became effective in 2002 when the 60th nation ratified the treaty. In 1998, the treaty was signed by 120 countries and developed the framework for a court.
The court is intended to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide. The court has jurisdiction in the nations that have ratified the treaty and that jurisdiction extends to acts from the effective date, July 1, 20o2.
The court was in part a response to international tribunals which had been created to prosecute crimes in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Instead of creating a new tribunal for each set of atrocities, the idea was to create a permanent court to hear all such cases.
In order to have jurisdiction, the crimes must occur in one of the states which has ratified the treaty, or the case must be referred by the U.N. Security Council. The ICC has indicted persons from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Darfur, Sudan. The court has also approved an investigation into the post-election violence in Kenya, but no indictments have been made public.
The first ICC case to go to trial, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been suspended because of the prosecution’s failure to comply with discovery orders by the court. This case may provide a test of the lasting power of the court and its ability to function. The court has ordered Lubanga released, but that order has been stayed pending appeal.
The court also has outstanding arrest warrants for the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir. The court has indicted Bashir for genocide, and war crimes in Sudan, but his government and many other countries have declined to arrest Bashir and present him to the court.
Another case that came to the court from Sudan, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, won dismissal of the charges against him at the confirmation of charges hearing. Two more accused from Sudan have now voluntarily appeared before the ICC and are contesting the confirmation of charges.
A major criticism of the court so far has been that all the cases have come from Africa, in fact adjoining countries in Africa. The ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said that more cases will be forthcoming and has said investigations are ongoing in Georgia, Guinea, Afghanistan, and Colombia.
The court cannot prosecute cases where a national authority has the jurisdiction and ability to prosecute. Its mandate is to prosecute only those crimes that will otherwise go unpunished and those that are severe enough to qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity. The ICC sits in The Hague, Netherlands.