American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court
The ICC > About the ICC > Jurisdiction of the ICC

The Most Serious Crimes

The ICC is the world's first permanent court with jurisdiction to try individuals accused of some of the most serious international crimes, as detailed in the ICC's Rome Statute and Elements of Crimes:

Buchenwald concentration camp survivors.
  • Genocide: Intentionally committing an "act of genocide" in order to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Acts of genocide include killing members of a group, seriously wounding members of a group, deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children of a group to another group (for example, the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust and of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994).
  • Crimes Against Humanity: Acts involving the multiple commission of one or more acts such as murder, extermination, enslavement, persecution, the forcible transfer of a population, torture, or rape. Such acts must be part of a) a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, and b) in adherence with a State or organizational policy to commit such attack (for example, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of Kosovo in the 1990's included crimes against humanity).
  • War Crimes: Crimes in violation of well-accepted laws of war, in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes (for example, the targeting of civilians in Sarajevo by snipers during the Bosnian conflict).
Enlisting or using child soldiers is a war crime under the ICC's Rome Statute.

The Rome Statute also includes the crime of aggression but did not initially provide a definition of the crime or the conditions under which the Court would exercise jurisdiction over it. The 2010 Review Conference, held in Kampala, Uganda, agreed on a definition and decided how the ICC could initiate and try cases.

The Court could exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as early as January 1, 2017 on the agreement of the Court's governing body, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), provided that certain other conditions are met. The aggression amendment does not apply to countries that have not joined the ICC.

How Cases Qualify for the ICC

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a treaty negotiated at the United Nations, established the ICC and now governs it. The ICC has jurisdiction over nationals and the territory of countries that have ratified the Rome Statute. The ICC's jurisdiction over territory and people can also extend beyond those of States Parties if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution referring a situation to the Court or if a non-State Party lodges a declaration of acceptance of jurisdiction with the ICC Registrar.

The ICC does not have retroactive jurisdiction - it can only hear cases alleging crimes that took place after July 1, 2002.

The Court's Prosecutor may begin an investigation when:

  • An ICC State Party refers a situation to the Court;
  • The UN Security Council refers a situation to the Court; or
  • A Pre-Trial Chamber of ICC judges grants an application of the Prosecutor to open an investigation on her own initiative.

The ICC can only look into situations that are "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole." In general, this means that the ICC will only take a case if multiple or very massive atrocities have been deliberately planned.