Global Policy Forum

International Criminal Court Investigations

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After a hard-fought battle by NGOs and supporting governments, a majority of countries signed the Rome Statute in July 1998, officially establishing the International Criminal Court. It took several years for nations to ratify the Statute, and for officials to work out the logistics of the Court's operations. The ICC came into force in 2004, when the ICC began investigating its first case.

To date, the Court has only formally investigated cases in southern hemisphere countries, prompting concern that the ICC will unintentionally evolve into a court that solely punishes dictators from poor nations. Nonetheless, the cases currently before the Court will be influential in shaping the ICC as a major body of international justice.

Democratic Republic of Congo

In July 2003, the ICC prosecutor initiated investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ituri region of the DRC. Warlords and fighters from other areas and countries surrounding Ituri had moved into the region, terrorizing civilians there. In 2004, with atrocities ongoing and spreading, the DRC president recommended that ICC investigators consider crimes committed all over the nation. The ICC prosecutor issued four arrest warrants, which lead to the arrest of three militia leaders. Ongoing acts of violence in the DRC make ICC investigations extremely difficult.

Central African Republic

On May 22 2007, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic since July 1, 2002. The government of the Central African Republic referred the case to the ICC on December 22, 2004. The ICC investigation has particularly focused on the prosecution of sexual violence, which appears to have been a central feature of the conflict. In May 2008, the ICC Prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice-President and sitting Senator from the DRC. He was immediately arrested and his trial is scheduled for April 2010.

Côte d'Ivoire

On October 3, 2011, the ICC allowed the prosecutor to open an investigation into the situation in Côte d'Ivoire. The prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo requested the Court’s authorization to initiate an investigation into alleged crimes committed during the post election violence in Côte d'Ivoire. Côte d'Ivoire is not a party to the Rome Statue but has accepted the jurisdiction of the court. The investigation will include crimes committed since November 28, 2010, and will cover potential future crimes.


In March 2010, the ICC authorized the prosecutor to open formal criminal investigations into the violence that took place in Kenya after the 2007 elections. This decision came after the Kenyan government failed to set up local tribunals to try the people responsible for orchestrating the attacks which left more than 1,100 people dead. This is the first case in which the prosecutor decided to start investigations on his own authority and the first case non- related to a civil war and armed conflicts.


On February 26, 2011, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the ICC.  This is only the second Security Council referral, and the first to be adopted unanimously.  Libya is not a party to the Rome Statute, however 1970 gives the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed in Libya after February 15, 2011 – the first day of protests.  ICC chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, opened an official investigation on 3 March 2011 and on May 4 announced that there is widespread evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  The Prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi. 


In a groundbreaking move, the UN Security Council referred the Darfur case to the ICC in March 2005. It was the first time the Security Council made such a decision and also that the US compromised on its adamant opposition to the ICC. The ICC prosecutor issued three arrest warrants for the leaders of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia, including President Omar al-Bashir. All remain at large. The Sudanese government has resisted the investigations into killings and human rights violations committed by Sudanese government-sponsored militias in the region.


In October 2005, Ugandan suspects became the first people ever officially indicted by the ICC. The ICC prosecutor issued five arrest warrants for top officers of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), including its leader, Joseph Kony. None of them were handed over to the ICC. The indictments reignited controversy about devaluing traditional justice practices in the face of the International Criminal Court. The ICC was also criticized for a lack of impartiality, as no arrest warrants were issued against the Ugandan armed forces. International and domestic experts have been debating these issues since the investigations began in January 2004.

Other Cases

The ICC mandate stipulates that its officials can only prosecute crimes that have taken place since 2002, when the Rome Statute established the Court. In addition, the jurisdiction of the Court is based on the principle of complementarity. This means that the ICC only has jurisdiction when a member state is unable or unwilling to deal with an international crime. Governments and international justice experts generate discussion about potential new cases, owing mainly to the general enthusiasm for the importance of the ICC in international justice.


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