The International Criminal Court: Seeking Global Justice

By Moreno-Ocampo, Luis | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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The International Criminal Court: Seeking Global Justice

Moreno-Ocampo, Luis, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


The Rome Statute is an innovative legal design, a twenty-first century institution modeled to address the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) must apply this new law and make daily decisions on new operational standards. To that purpose, he must maintain a continuous dialogue with academic communities.

This essay tackles the wide prospects opened by the Rome Treaty, and addresses the nature of the interactions among the Court, states, and international organizations.


The goal of the Rome Statute is to end the impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern--genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes--and to contribute to the prevention of such crimes, (1) To achieve its goal, the Rome Statute created a novel system of interaction among States, international organizations, and a permanent international criminal court supported by an emerging global civil society. (2) States not only committed to applying this law within their own borders, but they also agreed to participate in a novel system of international cooperation. They committed themselves to supporting a permanent ICC, whenever and wherever the Court decides to intervene. The Rome Statute is more than a Court; it created a global criminal justice system.

The ICC model took over a century to develop. In 1873, Louis Gabriel Gustave Moynier, the Swiss lawyer who co-founded the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), proposed the creation of a permanent and impartial international criminal court. He noted that

   [a] treaty was not a law imposed by a superior authority on its
   subordinates ... [but] only a contract whose signatories cannot
   decree penalties against themselves since there would be no one to
   implement them. The only reasonable guarantee should lie in the
   creation of international jurisdiction with the necessary power to
   compel obedience. (3)

Despite his efforts, the world witnessed the horror of three genocides--in the Holocaust, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda--before the international community decided to create ad hoc international tribunals to address those crimes.

Finally, in 1998, countries from all the continents actively participated in the elaboration of a new and comprehensive body of law: the Rome Statute. Substantive law was codified in one detailed text, and different legal and procedural traditions integrated into a new international model. The duties of the states, the complementarity system, and the conditions to trigger the jurisdiction of the Court were well-defined. (4) In 1998, a global criminal justice system was at last established.


After five years of operations, the time has come to take a look at this new system from a wider point of view. The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened investigations in four situations and collected evidence against those most responsible for massive crimes. The Judges issued ten arrest warrants, held one confirmation of charges hearing, and the Court's first trial is about to begin. The ICC has made the law a working system and is driving other actors, such as states, international organizations, and global civil society, to new and demanding challenges.

Since the Court entered into operation, the number of states parties has continued to grow. It has grown from the required sixty to enter into force to 106 state parties, Madagascar being the most recent addition. (5) This number of ratifications helped to harmonize the work of the ICC with the United Nations and other international organizations, such as the African Union, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Arab League.

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