The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 1998 to serve as a forum in which to try persons who are “accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” The UN Security Council, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and even individuals can bring lawsuits before the Court. The ICC defines itself as “a court of last resort,” meaning that it “will not act if a case is investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system unless the national proceedings are not genuine, for example if formal proceedings were undertaken solely to shield a person from criminal responsibility.”
The ICC was created by the so-called Rome Statute, the treaty that spelled out the Court’s jurisdiction, its structure, and its functions. Adopted in Rome, Italy on July 17, 1998, this Statute is an international treaty which is binding only on those States that formally express their consent to be bound by its provisions. As of November 2006, some 103 countries had ratified the Statute.
The United States signed the Statute on December 31, 2000, during the final days of the Clinton administration. But on May 2, 2003, the Bush administration — fearing that American soldiers and government officials could be subjected to politicized prosecutions by ambitious prosecutors and judges — informed the UN Secretary General that “the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty” and thus “has no legal obligations arising from its signature.” The United Nations, however, has not removed the name of the United States from the official list of signatories.
In February 2003, the Assembly of States Parties elected 18 judges of the Court for three-, six-, and nine-year terms of office (different terms for different judges). All the judges (11 men and 7 women) are nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute. These 18 hail from the countries of Canada, Ghana, Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, France, Cyprus, Costa Rica, South Africa, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Mali, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Bulgaria.
In 2003 the Greek Bar Association announced that it would seek to prosecute British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the ICC for his support of the Iraq War.
On March 11, 2006, the 18 ICC judges elected three of their own to assume the highest leadership positions in the Court: Philippe Kirsch of Canada was elected President; Akua Kuenyehia of Ghana was named First Vice-President; and René Blattmann of Bolivia was named Second Vice-President. Each was elected by an absolute majority of the Court’s judges to a three-year renewable term.
As of June 2011, Israel was the only “war criminal” ever to have been prosecuted by the Court. The prosecution stemmed from a 2004 decision by the Dutch judges who condemned the Jewish state for the security barrier — which ICC termed an “apartheid wall” — that Israel had erected against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. Under the pressure of Arab states, the Court also listed, as a war crime, “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This verbiage was was intended to force Israel to dismantle its settlements. As Israel National News observed: “The Islamic regimes succeeded in changing the Court’s statute to eliminate terrorism as an offense and, at the same time, to define the Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria as ‘war criminals.'” ICC’s condemnations of Israel provided the basis for all subsequent accusations against Israel for its “illegal occupation” of all territory conquered in 1967. Indeed, all the legal proceedings against Israeli politicians and military personnel in the United Kingdom or Belgian courts, and the infamous Goldstone Report on Gaza, were based on the ICC’s pronouncements regarding on Israel.
In 2011, former American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton — noting that the Court’s prosecutor, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, was also planning investigations on the American military in Afghanistan — wrote that “the Court is one of the most illegitimate institutions in the world.”