International Criminal Court: Achievements and challenges 20 years after the adoption of the Rome Statute
International Criminal Court: Achievements and challenges 20 years after the adoption of the Rome Statute - Briefing
Author: Ionel Zamfir
Date of publication: July 2018

Adopted on 17 July 1998, the Statute of Rome is the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, which was set up to deal with the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Its establishment has inspired much hope that the most horrendous crimes will no longer go unpunished and that its deterrent effect will significantly reduce their occurrence. The EU has been a strong supporter of the ICC system from the outset.

Since it began operating in 2003, the Court has conducted investigations and trials in connection with some of the world's most brutal conflicts and has not shied away from investigating individuals at the highest level of power, such as presidents in office. It has developed extensive tools to protect its most important asset – the witnesses, who in many cases have faced intimidation, violence and even death. However the Court has also encountered difficulties and inherent limitations. The atrocities committed by groups such as ISIL/Da'esh have been out of reach for the Court's jurisdiction, which is limited to states parties' territories and their nationals, unless the Security Council specifically asks it to investigate. The refusal by some major powers such as the US, China and Russia to join, the lack of cooperation by some states parties such as South Africa, as well as recent defections or the threat thereof have also put strains on its global authority.

The Court's effectiveness cannot be judged solely on the convictions it passes. The ICC is a court of last resort, and its impact on national judicial systems has also been significant. The Rome Statute itself has evolved. At the end of last year, the jurisdiction of the Court was extended to cover the crime of international aggression and new war crimes taking into account the latest technological developments.

This briefing updates a previous briefing on the International Criminal Court, from May 2017.