The International Criminal Court

שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעֽוּךָ וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ לֹא קָרָֽאוּ: כִּי אָכַל אֶת־יַעֲקֹב. וְאֶת־נָוֵֽהוּ הֵשַֽׁמּוּ: שְׁפָךְ־עֲלֵיהֶם זַעְמֶֽךָ, וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ יַשִּׂיגֵם: תִּרְדֹּף בְּאַף וְתַשְׁמִידֵם, מִתַּֽחַת שְׁמֵי יְיָ:

Pour out your wrath upon the nations that have not known you, and upon the kingdoms that do not call your name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste to his habitations. Pour your fury upon them, let your blazing anger overtake them. Pursue them with hatred and may they be destroyed from under God’s heavens.​

Goal of the ICC

The ICC was created in 1998 to prosecute people who commit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and who start unprovoked wars. Until this time, the only means available of deterring these things was to threaten to retaliate in kind. Victims of these crimes could only long for revenge- there was no legal means of punishment.

The goal of the ICC is to change this. Threat of prosecution at the ICC may deter military and political leaders from doing these things in the first place. And if individuals accused of these crimes are brought to trial, victims can publicly tell their stories and see those who wronged them held accountable. This will diminish the desire of victims to take the law into their own hands and get revenge on their own.

All this is similar to regular criminal law. Regular crime is deterred by the threat of arrest and punishment, and victims of ordinary crime turn to the courts to punish their offender rather than seeking to do justice on their own. The hope is that the ICC will be able to have a similar impact with regard to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.


The ICC does not have much power. It relies on member countries (countries that have signed the Rome Statute) to arrest and deport to it people who are accused of crimes. If it sentences a defendant to jail, it also relies on member countries to enforce that punishment.

    The ICC can only prosecute crimes that have taken place in countries that have signed the Rome Statute, or have been referred by the UN Security Council. Only cases that member states are unable or unwilling to prosecute can be brought to the ICC. So far the ICC has heard approximately 26 cases and issued 32 arrest warrants.

     Critics point to the low number of cases and limited focus (most ICC trials have been for crimes committed in Africa) as proof that the court is ineffective. Supporters note that this is the first attempt in history to hold individuals internationally accountable for these four crimes. In light of the great difficulty persuading countries to accept the court and the very limited powers granted the court by the Rome Statute, its achievements are actually quite impressive.


     The United States has refused to sign the Rome Statute, and also made agreements with foreign countries to shield its military from the court’s jurisdiction. The reason is fear that enemies of the United States will use the court against U.S. troops stationed abroad. Israel refuses to join out of fear it will be unfairly singled out and targeted by the court, similar to what goes on at the United Nations. While there is of course a legitimate basis for these fears, it should be noted that nearly every country is able to give a plausible rationale why it may be treated unfairly as a reason not to join.

Learn More

How the ICC Works

Learn more about the ICC- how it works, its juristiction, and its current activities- from the ICC’s own website.

Do We Need the ICC?

‘Do We Need the ICC?’ A discussion from various perspectives in the New York Times.

Successes and Failures

A detailed and balanced account of the ICC since its inception, highlighting its successes and failures. Also reflections on how the court can improve in the future. From the International Policy Digest.


An examination of what the court has achieved, in spite of the very limited number of trials it has conducted. From Justice in Conflict.

ICC Deserves Support

‘15 years of ICC: international criminal justice is working and needs strong support’- from the Huffpost.

How to Improve the ICC

Reflections on the successes and disappointments of the ICC in its first 15 years, and thoughts on how to improve it. From Forbes.

Human Rights Haggadah Blog