International Criminal Court (ICC) - UPSC Current Affairs

International Criminal Court

In today’s edition of our UPSC Current Affairs Dialog Box, we will talk about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its relevance from the UPSC CSE syllabus. Needless to say, ICC is an essential part of the UPSC exam preparation.

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Prelims: International Criminal Court, Rome Statute.

Mains: Bilateral, Regional, and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Why in the News?

The International Criminal Court has announced that it will open an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.

International Criminal Court

Image Source: The Hindu

Probable Question

Examine the significance of world institutions in maintaining the rule-based world order.

Key Points:

About International Criminal Court (ICC):

  • ICC was established by the 1998 Rome Statute (ICC’s founding and governing document), and began functioning on 1 July 2002 when the Statute came into force.
  • Organs of the ICC:
    • Presidency
    • Judicial Divisions
    • Office of the Prosecutor
    • Registry
  • Mandate:
    • The International Criminal Court is a permanent court to prosecute serious international crimes committed by individuals. 
    • It tries crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression. 
  • Funding: Although the Court’s expenses are funded primarily by States Parties, it also receives voluntary contributions from governments, international organizations, individuals, corporations, and other entities.
  • Languages: There are Six official languages namely: English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish, and 2 working languages: English and French.
  • Headquarters: The Hague, the Netherlands.
  • The Court was established to fight global impunity and bring to justice criminals under international law, regardless of their rank or stature. 
  • Assembly of States Parties:
    • The Assembly of States Parties is the Court’s management oversight and legislative body and is composed of representatives of the States which have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute.
    • Each state party has one vote and “every effort” has to be made to reach decisions by consensus. If consensus cannot be reached, decisions are made by vote.
  • Membership & Rome Statute: 
    • Before the ICC became functional in 2002, its founding treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998 in Rome, Italy, thereby making it the Rome Statute.
    • To become a member of the ICC or State party to the Rome Statute, countries have to sign the statute and ratify it under their respective legislatures. 
    • 123 countries are currently members of the ICC, with African countries making up the largest bloc. 
    • Notably, countries including India, China, Iraq, North Korea, and Turkey never signed the Rome Statute, while others including the US, Russia, Israel, and Syria signed, but never ratified it.

How does the ICC Function?

  • The ICC carries out its investigations through the Office of the Prosecutor and has 18 judges. Both the judges and prosecutors hold non-renewable nine-year terms.
  • There are a pre-trial, trial, and appellate benches in the ICC. 
    • The prosecutor conducts a preliminary examination in a matter, before seeking permission from pre-trial judges to open a full investigation. 
  • The initial examination must conclude that the crimes in question are of “sufficient gravity”. 
  • The Prosecutor can open an investigation in three ways
    • when a case is referred by a member country in its own territory; 
    • when a case is referred by the UN Security Council; 
    • when the prosecutor takes up a case proprio motu or on his own. 
  • Non-member states can also be investigated in three ways: 
    • if alleged crimes were perpetrated by non-members in member states,
    •  if the non-members accept the court’s jurisdiction,
    • or when the Security Council authorizes it.

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ICJ vis-i-vis ICC

  • Unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ICC is not part of the United Nations system, with the UN-ICC relationship being governed by a separate agreement. 
  • The ICJ, which is among the UN’s 6 principal organs, mainly hears disputes between nations while the ICC, on the other hand, prosecutes individuals– its authority extending to offenses committed in a member state or by a national of such a state.

Also read: Approach for General Studies Paper I for Preliminary Exam

India vis-i-vis ICC:

  • India had participated actively in the Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of the ICC, however abstained from the motion to adopt the Rome Statute for several reasons, including jurisdictional issues, fearing that the ICC might exercise its jurisdiction in areas such as Kashmir and the North-East, which it considers “internal issues” that are hands-off for international actors.

Criticism of ICC:

  • Slow Pace of Judgements: The ICC has been criticized for the pace of investigations and judgments. 
    • For Example, after 19 years of being active, the court has convicted 10 persons accused in a small number of cases and acquitted four individuals.
  • Over Expenditure vis-i-vis Outcome: Some experts question whether the time, efforts, and financial resources invested in the court by member countries are worth the outcome. 
    • For Example, the court’s annual budget for 2021 was over $160 million. 
  • More Focus on Specific region: Another point of contention is that barring recent years, the court, since its formation, largely took up investigations into alleged crimes committed in African countries. 
    • All of the nearly 30 cases currently in the trial stage before the court are from African countries. 
    • The African Union in 2016 had endorsed a proposal led by Kenya for a mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute. The vote on this proposal, however, was symbolic.

What cases have the ICC dealt in the Past?

  • Investigating Arab Spring Protests:
  • In 2011, the UN Security Council had referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, with allegations that Muammar Gaddafi, the then de facto leader of Libya and his son, was responsible for civilian killings during the Arab Spring protests.
  • The court had issued arrest warrants against all three in June 2011, but Gaddafi died before he could be arrested and the warrant against his son could not be carried out and he remains at large to date. 
  • Rohingya Issue:
  • In 2019, the ICC opened an investigation into alleged persecution of the Rohingya population across the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh, resulting in the forceful displacement of an estimated 6,00,000 to one million Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh. 
Related Terms
War Crimes:War Crimes are defined as serious violations of humanitarian laws during a conflict.

 The definition, established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is derived from the 1949 Geneva Conventions and is based on the idea that individuals can be held liable for the actions of a state or its military.

The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect defines war crimes as occurring in a domestic conflict or a war between two states.

There is a long list of acts that can be considered war crimes.
 For Example, the taking of hostages, willful killings, torture or inhumane treatment of prisoners of war, and forcing children to fight are some of the more obvious examples.

Deciding a War Crime: To decide whether an individual or a military has committed a war crime, international humanitarian law lays down three principles: distinction, proportionality, and precaution.

Genocide:The Crime of Genocide is characterized by the specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members.

Crimes against Humanity:
Crimes against humanity, which are serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against any civilian population. These can happen in peacetime or during the unilateral aggression of a military towards a group of unarmed people.

Crime of Aggression: It is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another State. 

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