International Criminal Court Project
Note: The statement below has not been reviewed or approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as necessarily representing the position of the Association or any of its entities.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the world’s only permanent international court with a mandate to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. It is designed to solidify the world community’s effort to hold individuals responsible for the worst atrocities, following the tradition of Nuremberg and the many subsequent temporary international criminal tribunals.
The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998 by a large majority of the nearly 150 states participating in the Rome Conference. The ICC began operations on July 1, 2002 when the requisite 60 states had ratified the Rome Statute. Currently 123 states have ratified the Rome Statute and 31 states have signed but not ratified. President Bill Clinton instructed the Rome Statute to be signed on December 31, 2000, but the United States submitted a letter on May 6, 2002 notifying the Secretary-General of the United Nations of its intent not to ratify.
The ICC was designed to complement national judicial systems and may only exercise its jurisdiction when national courts are genuinely unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute atrocities. As a court of last resort, the ICC only exercises jurisdiction after national courts have failed to investigate or prosecute atrocities. The United States has long beena world leader in support of the rule of law globally. The ICC is widely-recognized as a critically important international institution but the United States, while often supporting the ICC in its activities, has not decided to become a party to the Rome Statute. There is an ongoing debate within the United States as to whether the Rome Statute contains sufficient checks and balances and whether joining is consistent with the US Constitution and foreign relations policies.
The American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights established the International Criminal Court Project (ICC Project) in November 2011 to implement long-standing ABA policies supporting the ICC and international criminal justice. These policies emphasize the need for a permanent international criminal tribunal; the value of the ICC in ensuring accountability and eradicating impunity for international atrocity crimes; the importance of the complementarity principle that establishes the ICC as a court of last resort for crimes that fall within its jurisdiction; the value of US ratification of the Rome Statute; and the importance of US support for and engagement with the International Criminal Court.
The ICC Project is guided by a bipartisan and multi-national Board of Advisors comprised of eminent leaders in the fields of law, foreign policy, diplomacy and human rights advocacy. With regard to its oversight of the Project, the Board of Advisors:
- Recognizes that the United States historically has been among the leading nations to support and contribute to international criminal justice; that the United States has advocated for, helped establish, and supported international and domestic criminal tribunals for World War II conflict areas, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia and Lebanon, and that the United States has demonstrated continuing commitment to achieving accountability for international atrocity crimes that occur in conflict zones around the world;
- Acknowledges the significant role that the United States undertook in the development and drafting of the Rome Statute of the ICC and other ICC essential documents;
- Recognizes that the US Government has had and continues to have concerns that have led to the status of the United States as a non-State Party to the ICC;
- Believes that the collaborative and multi-faceted ICC Project will assist in the strengthening of US-ICC relationship and assist, where appropriate, the ICC’s important legal work.