A common trend among recent peace processes is the use of amnesty agreements as a mechanism to restore the rule of law and bring democracy back to the country. However, the international community is still reluctant to endorse them. Both human rights advocates and international organizations such as the United Nations have vehemently opposed the choice of amnesty. However, for others, amnesty agreements are still a legitimate and plausible way to achieve peace and even justice


Trials are conducted under a hybrid common law and civil law judicial system, but it has been argued the procedural orientation and character of the court is still evolving. A majority of the three judges present, as triers of fact, may reach a decision, which must include a full and reasoned statement. Trials are supposed to be public, but proceedings are often closed, and such exceptions to a public trial have not been enumerated in detail. In camera proceedings are allowed for protection of witnesses or defendants as well as for confidential or sensitive evidence. Hearsay and other indirect evidence is not generally prohibited, but it has been argued the court is guided by hearsay exceptions which are prominent in common law systems. There is nosubpoena or other means to compel witnesses to come before the court, although the court has some power to compel testimony of those who are, such as fines.

Rights of the accused

The Rome Statute provides that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and establishes certain rights of the accused and persons during investigations. These include the right to be fully informed of the charges against him or her; the right to have a lawyer appointed, free of charge; the right to a speedy trial; and the right to examine the witnesses against him or her.

To ensure “equality of arms” between defence and prosecution teams, the ICC has established an independent Office of Public Counsel for the Defence (OPCD) to provide logistical support, advice and information to defendants and their counsel. The OPCD also helps to safeguard the rights of the accused during the initial stages of an investigation. However, Thomas Lubanga’s defence team say they were given a smaller budget than the Prosecutor and that evidence and witness statements were slow to arrive.

The trial court procedures are similar to the US Guantanamo military commissions.

Victim participation and reparations

One of the great innovations of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and its Rules of Procedure and Evidence is the series of rights granted to victims. For the first time in the history of international criminal justice, victims have the possibility under the Statute to present their views and observations before the Court.

Participation before the Court may occur at various stages of proceedings and may take different forms, although it will be up to the judges to give directions as to the timing and manner of participation.

Participation in the Court’s proceedings will in most cases take place through a legal representative and will be conducted “in a manner which is not prejudicial or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial”.

The victim-based provisions within the Rome Statute provide victims with the opportunity to have their voices heard and to obtain, where appropriate, some form of reparation for their suffering. It is this balance between retributive and restorative justice that will enable the ICC, not only to bring criminals to justice but also to help the victims themselves obtain justice.

Article 43(6) establishes a Victims and Witnesses Unit to provide “protective measures and security arrangements, counseling and other appropriate assistance for witnesses, victims who appear before the Court, and others who are at risk on account of testimony given by such witnesses.” Article 68 sets out procedures for the “Protection of the victims and witnesses and their participation in the proceedings.” The Court has also established an Office of Public Counsel for Victims, to provide support and assistance to victims and their legal representatives. Article 79 of the Rome Statute establishes a Trust Fund to make financial reparations to victims and their families.

Participation of victims in proceedings

The Rome Statute contains provisions which enable victims to participate in all stages of the proceedings before the Court.

Hence victims may file submissions before the Pre-Trial Chamber when the Prosecutor requests its authorization to investigate. They may also file submissions on all matters relating to the competence of the Court or the admissibility of cases.

More generally, victims are entitled to file submissions before the Court chambers at the pre-trial stage, during the proceedings or at the appeal stage.

The rules of procedure and evidence stipulate the time for victim participation in proceedings before the Court. They must send a written application to the Court Registrar and more precisely to the Victims’ Participation and Reparation Section, which must submit the application to the competent Chamber which decides on the arrangements for the victims’ participation in the proceedings. The Chamber may reject the application if it considers that the person is not a victim. Individuals who wish to make applications to participate in proceedings before the Court must therefore provide evidence proving they are victims of crimes which come under the competence of the Court in the proceedings commenced before it. The Section prepared standard forms and a booklet to make it easier for victims to file their petition to participate in the proceedings.

It should be stipulated that a petition may be made by a person acting with the consent of the victim, or in their name when the victim is a child or if any disability makes this necessary.

Victims are free to choose their legal representative who must be equally as qualified as the counsel for the defense (this may be a lawyer or person with experience as a judge or prosecutor) and be fluent in one of the Court’s two working languages (English or French).

To ensure efficient proceedings, particularly in cases with many victims, the competent Chamber may ask victims to choose a shared legal representative. If the victims are unable to appoint one, the Chamber may ask the Registrar to appoint one or more shared legal representatives.

The Victims Participation and Reparation Section is responsible for assisting victims with the organization of their legal representation before the Court. When a victim or a group of victims does not have the means to pay for a shared legal representative appointed by the Court, they may request financial aid from the Court to pay counsel. Counsel may participate in the proceedings before the Court by filing submissions and attending the hearings.

The Registry, and within it the Victims’ Participation and Reparation Section, has many obligations with regard to notification of the proceedings to the victims to keep them fully informed of progress. Thus, it is stipulated that the Section must notify victims, who have communicated with the Court in a given case or situation, of any decisions by the Prosecutor not to open an investigation or not to commence a prosecution, so that these victims can file submissions before the Pre-Trial Chamber responsible for checking the decisions taken by the Prosecutor under the conditions laid down in the Statute. The same notification is required before the confirmation hearing in the Pre-Trial Chamber to allow the victims to file all the submissions they require. All decisions taken by the Court are then notified to the victims who participated in the proceedings or to their counsel. The Victims’ Participation and Reparation Section has wide discretion to use all possible means to give adequate publicity to the proceedings before the Court (local media, requests for co-operation sent to Governments, aid requested from NGOs or other means).

Reparation for victims

For the first time in the history of humanity, an international court has the power to order an individual to pay reparation to another individual; it is also the first time that an international criminal court has had such power.

Pursuant to article 75, the Court may lay down the principles for reparation for victims, which may include restitution, indemnification and rehabilitation. On this point, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has benefited from all the work carried out with regard to victims, in particular within the United Nations.

The Court must also enter an order against a convicted person stating the appropriate reparation for the victims or their beneficiaries. This reparation may also take the form of restitution, indemnification or rehabilitation. The Court may order this reparation to be paid through the Trust Fund for Victims, which was set up by the Assembly of States Parties in September 2002.

To be able to apply for reparation, victims have to file a written application with the Registry, which must contain the evidence laid down in Rule 94 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The Victims’ Participation and Reparation Section prepared standard forms to make this easier for victims. They may also apply for protective measures for the purposes of confiscating property from the persons prosecuted.

The Victims’ Participation and Reparation Section is responsible for giving all appropriate publicity to these reparation proceedings to enable victims to make their applications. These proceedings take place after the person prosecuted has been declared guilty of the alleged facts.

The Court has the option of granting individual or collective reparation, concerning a whole group of victims or a community, or both. If the Court decides to order collective reparation, it may order that reparation to be made through the Victims’ Fund and the reparation may then also be paid to an inter-governmental, international or national organization.

Co-operation by states not party to Rome Statute

One of the principles of international law is that a treaty does not create either obligations or rights for third states without their consent, and this is also enshrined in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The co-operation of the non-party states with the ICC is envisioned by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to be of voluntary nature. However, even states that have not acceded to the Rome Statute might still be subjects to an obligation to co-operate with ICC in certain cases. When a case is referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council all UN member states are obliged to co-operate, since its decisions are binding for all of them. Also, there is an obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, which stems from the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I, which reflects the absolute nature of IHL. Although the wording of the Conventions might not be precise as to what steps have to be taken, it has been argued that it at least requires non-party states to make an effort not to block actions of ICC in response to serious violations of those Conventions. In relation to co-operation in investigation and evidence gathering, it is implied from the Rome Statute that the consent of a non-party state is a prerequisite for ICC Prosecutor to conduct an investigation within its territory, and it seems that it is even more necessary for him to observe any reasonable conditions raised by that state, since such restrictions exist for states party to the Statute. Taking into account the experience of the ICTY (which worked with the principle of the primacy, instead of complementarity) in relation to co-operation, some scholars have expressed their pessimism as to the possibility of ICC to obtain co-operation of non-party states. As for the actions that ICC can take towards non-party states that do not co-operate, the Rome Statute stipulates that the Court may inform the Assembly of States Parties or Security Council, when the matter was referred by it, when non-party state refuses to co-operate after it has entered into an ad hoc arrangement or an agreement with the Court.

Amnesties and national reconciliation processes

It is unclear to what extent the ICC is compatible with reconciliation processes that grant amnesty to human rights abusers as part of agreements to end conflict. Article 16 of the Rome Statute allows the Security Council to prevent the Court from investigating or prosecuting a case, and Article 53 allows the Prosecutor the discretion not to initiate an investigation if he or she believes that “an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”. Former ICC president Philippe Kirsch has said that “some limited amnesties may be compatible” with a country’s obligations genuinely to investigate or prosecute under the Statute.

It is sometimes argued that amnesties are necessary to allow the peaceful transfer of power from abusive regimes. By denying states the right to offer amnesty to human rights abusers, the International Criminal Court may make it more difficult to negotiate an end to conflict and a transition to democracy. For example, the outstanding arrest warrants for four leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army are regarded by some as an obstacle to ending the insurgency in Uganda. Czech politician Marek Benda argues that “the ICC as a deterrent will in our view only mean the worst dictators will try to retain power at all costs”. However, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross maintain that granting amnesty to those accused of war crimes and other serious crimes is a violation of international law.

Criticisms Checks and balances

Critics of the Court argue that there are “insufficient checks and balances on the authority of the ICC prosecutor and judges” and “insufficient protection against politicized prosecutions or other abuses”.

Concerning the independent Office of Public Counsel for the Defense (OPCD), Thomas Lubanga’s defence team say they were given a smaller budget than the Prosecutor and that evidence and witness statements were slow to arrive.

Rights of the accused

Some argue that the protections offered by the ICC are insufficient. According to the Heritage Foundation “Americans who appear before the court would be denied such basic U.S. constitutional rights as trial by a jury of one’s peers, protection from double jeopardy, and the right to confront one’s accusers.”

Others argue that the ICC standards are sufficient. According to the Human Rights Watch “the ICC has one of the most extensive lists of due process guarantees ever written”, including “presumption of innocence; right to counsel; right to present evidence and to confront witnesses; right to remain silent; right to be present at trial; right to have charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and protection against double jeopardy”. According to David Scheffer, who led the US delegation to the Rome Conference and who voted against adoption of the treaty, “when we were negotiating the Rome treaty, we always kept very close tabs on, ‘Does this meet U.S. constitutional tests, the formation of this court and the due process rights that are accorded defendants?’ And we were very confident at the end of Rome that those due process rights, in fact, are protected, and that this treaty does meet a constitutional test.”

In some common law systems, such as the United States, the right to confront one’s accusers is traditionally seen as negatively affected by the lack of an ability to compel witnesses and the admission of hearsay evidence, which along with other indirect evidence is not generally prohibited.

The ICC has been criticized for being contrary to the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution due to the absence of jury trials, as well as allegations that retrial is permitted for errors of fact, hearsay is accepted as evidence, and that there is no right to a speedy trial and a public trial, or reasonable bail.


Limitations exist for the ICC. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the ICC’s prosecutor team takes no account of the roles played by the government in the conflict of Uganda, Rwanda or Congo. This led to a flawed investigation, because the ICC did not reach the conclusion of its verdict after considering the governments’ position and actions in the conflict.

Selective enforcement

The ICC has been accused of bias and even as being a tool of Western imperialism, only punishing leaders from small, weak nations while ignoring crimes committed by richer and more powerful nations. In an op-ed in The Guardian, George Monbiot wrote:

The conviction of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear.

In particular, the ICC has been criticized for targeting only people from Africa; to date, all of the ICC’s cases are from African countries.

Relationships United Nations

Unlike the International Court of Justice, the ICC is legally independent from the United Nations. However, the Rome Statute grants certain powers to the United Nations Security Council. Because the ICC cannot look into anything that happened before its establishment in 2002, it cannot be said that the ICC is functionally independent from the UN. Article 13 allows the Security Council to refer to the Court situations that would not otherwise fall under the Court’s jurisdiction (as it did in relation to the situations in Darfur and Libya, which the Court could not otherwise have prosecuted as neither Sudan nor Libya are state parties). Article 16 allows the Security Council to require the Court to defer from investigating a case for a period of 12 months. Such a deferral may be renewed indefinitely by the Security Council. This sort of an arrangement gives the ICC some of the advantages inhering in the organs of the United Nations such as using the enforcement powers of the Security Council but it also creates a risk of being tainted with the political controversies of the Security Council.

The Court cooperates with the UN in many different areas, including the exchange of information and logistical support. The Court reports to the UN each year on its activities, and some meetings of the Assembly of States Parties are held at UN facilities. The relationship between the Court and the UN is governed by a “Relationship Agreement between the International Criminal Court and the United Nations”.