Gustav Moynier, one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross, proposed a permanent international court in response to the devastation of the Franco-Prussian War.
Following World War I, the negotiators of the Treaty of Versailles proposed establishing an international court to try the Kaiser and German war criminals.
Though the Kaiser was never tried, the proposal remained in Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles.
The United States and its Allies signed the Moscow Declaration of 1943 and the Potsdam Declaration of 1945, which discussed the need to punish war crimes committed by German and Japanese governments respectively.
Following World War II, the Allies set up the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals to try German and Japanese war leaders, respectively. Among other principles, these trials confirmed that individuals could be held criminally responsible for international crimes, regardless of official position, and that superiors’ orders were not a full defense to criminal behavior.
December 9, 1948: The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which called for perpetrators of genocide to be tried before international penal tribunals. Following the adoption of the Convention, the General Assembly invited the International Law Commission to explore the possibility of establishing an international judicial organ to try those charged with genocide. The Commission concluded that such a judicial organ was both possible and desirable, and a subsequent committee drafted statutes in 1951 and 1954. Despite these early efforts, the General Assembly postponed considering the question, and the Cold War prevented further development of international criminal law for several decades.
August 12, 1949: Led by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a Diplomatic Conference in Geneva, Switzerland adopted the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The original four conventions were followed by Additional Protocols I and II on June 8, 1977. These conventions form the backbone of international humanitarian law and are binding customary international law on all States and other actors in armed conflict. Each convention provides special protection to a group of designated persons, including civilians, aid workers, the wounded, and others no longer taking part in active hostilities. The Fourth Geneva Convention specifically outlines protection owed to civilians in armed conflict. Additionally, the “grave breaches” regime they created (wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer of protected persons, hostage-taking, extensive destruction of property, etc.) informed the later codification of war crimes in the Rome Statute.
May 11, 1960-May 31, 1962
After Israeli secret police arrested him in Argentina, Adolf Eichmann is prosecuted and convicted in Israeli courts for the ruthless extermination of millions of Jews during World War II. It marked the first conviction for genocide (retroactively) and a seminal moment in the use of universal jurisdiction by a national jurisdiction for international atrocity crimes.
June 8, 1977
Led by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a Diplomatic Conference in Geneva, Switzerland adopted Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Protocol I provided additional requirements during international armed conflicts, involving at least two countries, therefore limiting the way wars can be fought. Protocol II provided additional requirements and protection that apply during non-international armed conflicts, or civil wars. Before Protocol II, the only restrictions applicable to internal conflicts were in Common Article Three of the four original Geneva Conventions, which required parties to, at a minimum, protect persons from violence to life and person, humiliating and degrading treatment, and required parties to provide judicial guarantees among other measures.
Trinidad and Tobago, concerned over the international drug trade, revived the idea of an international criminal court. In response, the United Nations General Assembly asked the International Law Commission to resume its work on drafting a statute for an international criminal court.
May 25, 1993: By resolution, the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the first ad hoc temporary UN international criminal tribunal, created to hold accountable those who participated in the atrocities committed during the Balkans conflicts in the 1990s. The court was established following the ethnic fighting and violence amidst the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
November 8, 1994: By resolution, the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to hold accountable those who participated in the atrocities in Rwanda between January 1 and December 31, 1994. The court was established following an approximately hundred day-long genocide that divided Rwandans largely along ethnic lines.
The International Law Commission presented its final draft statute for an international criminal court to the United Nations General Assembly in 1994. On the Commission’s recommendation, the General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court to consider substantives issues in the draft statute. The Ad Hoc Committee met twice during 1995 to discuss the establishment of an international criminal court.
The United Nations General Assembly created the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of the International Criminal Court, open to both Member States and specialized agencies, to prepare a consolidated text based on the International Law Commission’s draft statute and the Ad Hoc Committee’s report. The Preparatory Committee held six sessions between 1996 and 1998, and approved the final draft statute at the March-April meeting in 1998, forming the basis of the draft considered at the Rome Conference.
Dec. 15, 1997: At its 52nd Session, the United Nations General Assembly officially resolved to hold a United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court (commonly called the “Rome Conference”), open to all Member States and members of specialized agencies. The General Assembly scheduled their meeting in Rome for June 1998 and tasked the Conference of Plenipotentiaries to finalize and adopt a convention to establish an international criminal court.
June 15 to July 17, 1998: The United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court (commonly called the “Rome Conference”) was held with the participation of over 160 governments.
July 17, 1998: The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was opened for signature and ratification after 120 countries voted in favor of it at the Rome Conference.
September 2, 1998: The ICTR finds Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former bourgmestre of Taba commune, guilty of genocide, making the ICTR the first international tribunal to enter a judgement for genocide and the first to interpret the definition of genocide.
May 27, 1999: The ICTY indicts Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević. This is the first indictment against a sitting head of state by an international court.
2002 - The ICC
January 16, 2002
The Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations signed an Agreement establishing a Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was a hybrid court, having jurisdiction over ‘persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996.’ The court was established following a decade long civil war between the government and the United Revolutionary Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh and supported by former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor was accused of using profits from illegal diamond mines to finance the RUF, and was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes on April 2, 2012.4
April 11, 2002
The 60th country ratified the Rome Statute, paving the way for its entry into force on July 1, 2002.
July 1, 2002
The Rome Statute legally entered into force, making the International Criminal Court (ICC) the world’s first and only permanent international criminal court for the investigation and prosecutions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed after July 1, 2002 and within its jurisdiction.
September 3-10, 2002
The Assembly of States Parties, the management oversight and legislative body of the ICC, met for the first time.
February 3-7, 2003
The Assembly of States Parties elected the ICC’s first bench of 18 judges.
March 11, 2003
The ICC held its inaugural session and the first bench of 18 judges took their oaths of office.
April 18, 2003
The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (a non-State Party to the Rome Statute) filed a declaration with the ICC accepting the Court’s jurisdiction. This declaration made Côte d’Ivoire the first State referral of any kind to the ICC. The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire filed a declaration reaffirming its acceptance of the Court’s jurisdiction on December 14, 2010. The Court formally authorized an investigation in 2011 and later expanded its jurisdiction to include events from September 29, 2002 onward.
April 21, 2003
The Assembly of States Parties unanimously elected Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina to serve as the first Prosecutor of the ICC. Mr. Ocampo took office on June 16, 2003.
June 6, 2003
The Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations signed an agreement establishing the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The ECCC is a hybrid-internationalized domestic court, having jurisdiction over ‘senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for the crimes and serious violations of Cambodian penal law, international humanitarian law and custom, and international conventions recognized by Cambodia’ between April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979, or the duration of the Khmer Rouge regime. The court was established following a 20 year civil war in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979. The Khmer Rouge regime is believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 1.7 million civilians through starvation, torture, execution and forced labor during its close to four year reign.
December 16, 2003
The situation in the Republic of Uganda is referred to the ICC, making the Republic of Uganda the first State Party referral to the ICC. After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Office of the Prosecutor opened a formal investigation on July 29, 2004.
March 31, 2005
The Security Council referred the situation in Darfur, Republic of the Sudan, to the ICC through Resolution 1593. The situation in the Republic of the Sudan was the first Security Council referral to the Court. After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Office of the Prosecutor opened a formal investigation on July 6, 2005.
October 13, 2005
The ICC unsealed arrest warrants for suspected members of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. These warrants for Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya, and Dominic Ongwen were the first warrants made public by the ICC.
March 16, 2006
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, leader of the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of the Congo, is transferred to ICC custody in The Hague. Mr. Lubanga is the first accused to be transferred to ICC custody.
January 23, 2007
The Republic of Lebanon and the United Nations signed an Agreement establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is a hybrid international tribunal, having jurisdiction over ‘persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death and injury of other persons,’ and potentially over any attacks the tribunal determines are related. The tribunal was established following an investigation of the February 14, 2005 terrorist attack by Lebanese authorities and the UN International Independent Investigation Commission along with several other attacks in Lebanon, which prompted the Republic of Lebanon to request that the UN create a tribunal of ‘international character.’
January 26, 2009
The ICC’s first trial,The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, commenced.
March 4, 2009
Pre-Trial Chamber I issued an arrest warrant against Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, Republic of the Sudan. The warrant was the first time a sitting head of state had been indicted by the ICC. The chamber issued a second arrest warrant for Al Bashir amending the alleged crimes to include genocide on July 12, 2010.
November 26, 2009
The Office of the Prosecutor sought authorization to open an investigation of alleged crimes against humanity committed in the Republic of Kenya during 2007-2008 election-related violence. The Office of the Prosecutor initiated the investigation proprio motu, which allows the Prosecutor to initiate cases within States Parties without a referral. After the Prosecutor applied for approval, Pre-Trial Chamber II issued a decision formally authorizing an investigation into the situation in the Republic of Kenya on March 31, 2010.
May 31 - June 11, 2010
A review conference of the Rome Statute of the ICC is held in Kampala, Uganda. Around 4600 representatives of States, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations attend the Conference. The Conference adopted a resolution by which it amended the Rome Statute to include a definition of the crime of aggression and the conditions under which the Court could exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime. The actual exercise of jurisdiction is subject to a decision to be taken after 1 January 2017 by a two-thirds majority of the States Parties to the ICC. The Conference also adopted a resolution by which it amended article 8 of the Rome Statute to bring under the jurisdiction of the Court the war crime of employing certain poisonous weapons and expanding bullets, asphyxiating or poisonous gases, and all analogous liquids, materials and devices, when committed in armed conflicts not of an international character.
April 8, 2011
Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya, voluntarily appears before the Court in response to a summons to appear issued by the Court.
December 12, 2011
The Assembly of States Parties unanimously elected Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia for a non-renewable nine year term, making her the ICC’s second prosecutor and first female prosecutor. Fatou Bensouda took office as ICC Prosecutor on June 15, 2012.
March 14, 2012
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is found guilty of war crimes (enlisting and conscripting of children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities) committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the Court’s first judgment. The Trial Chamber sentenced Lubanga Dyilo to 14 years imprisonment on July 10, 2012 and required that reparations be paid to victims of these crimes.
December 18, 2012
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, the alleged former leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI), is acquitted of all charges against him. He was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes relating to an attack on the Congolese village of Bogoro in February 2003. On February 27, 2015, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the acquittal.
March 22, 2013
Bosco Ntaganda voluntarily surrendered to the ICC, the first suspect to do so. Ntaganda is the alleged former Deputy Chief of the Staff and commander of operations of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
July 1, 2013
The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) begins work in the Hague. The MICT was established by the United Nations Security Council on December 22, 2010 to continue the functions of the ICTY and ICTR following their completions.
March 7, 2014
Germain Katanga is found guilty of war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property, pillaging) and crimes against humanity (murder) committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the court’s third judgment and second conviction.
December 5, 2014
The Office of the Prosecutor withdraws the charges against Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, the current President of the Republic of Kenya. On March 13, 2015, the Trial Chamber decided to terminate the proceedings against Mr. Kenyatta due to the Prosecutor’s withdrawal of charges.
March 11, 2015
The judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) elect Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi (Argentina) as President, Judge Joyce Aluoch (Kenya) as First Vice-President, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki (Japan) as Second Vice-President. This marks the first time that the ICC will have four women in its leadership positions with Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as the fourth.
September 29, 2015
The trial against Bemba et al. commenced. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido are accused of offences against the administration of justice in connection with witnesses’ testimonies in the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo.
October 13, 2015
The Office of the Prosecutor sought authorization to open an investigation of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Georgia in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008. The Office of the Prosecutor initiated the investigation proprio motu, which allows the Prosecutor to initiate cases within States Parties without a referral. After the Prosecutor applied for approval, Pre-Trial Chamber I issued a decision formally authorizing an investigation into the situation in Georgia on January 27, 2016.
December 31, 2015
The ICTR closed and delegated its remaining functions to the MICT.
March 21, 2016
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is found guilty of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) committed in Central African Republic. Trial Chamber III sentenced Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to 18 years of imprisonment on June 21, 2016.
March 24, 2016
Charges are confirmed against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments, the first case concerning the destruction of cultural heritage before the Court, as well as the first guilty plea before the Court.
May 30, 2016
The Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), established under an agreement between Senegal and the African Union, issued a life sentence to the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, finding him guilty of torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.