Crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court

Part 2, Article 5 of the Rome Statute grants the Court jurisdiction over four groups of crimes, which it refers to as the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”: the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The Statute defines each of these crimes except for aggression. The crime of genocide is unique because the crime must be committed with ‘intent to destroy’. Crimes against humanity are specifically listed prohibited acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. The Statute provides that the Court will not exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until such time as the states parties agree on a definition of the crime and set out the conditions under which it may be prosecuted.

In June 2010, the ICC’s first review conference in Kampala, Uganda adopted amendments defining “crimes of aggression” and expanding the ICC’s jurisdiction over them. The ICC will not be allowed to prosecute for this crime until at least 2017. Furthermore, it expanded the term of war crimes for the use of certain weapons in an armed conflict not of an international character.

Many states wanted to add terrorism and drug trafficking to the list of crimes covered by the Rome Statute; however, the states were unable to agree on a definition for terrorism and it was decided not to include drug trafficking as this might overwhelm the Court’s limited resources. India lobbied to have the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction included as war crimes but this move was also defeated. India has expressed concern that “the Statute of the ICC lays down, by clear implication, that the use of weapons of mass destruction is not a war crime. This is an extraordinary message to send to the international community.”

Some commentators have argued that the Rome Statute defines crimes too broadly or too vaguely. For example, China has argued that the definition of ‘war crimes’ goes beyond that accepted under customary international law.

Territorial jurisdiction

During the negotiations that led to the Rome Statute, a large number of states argued that the Court should be allowed to exercise universal jurisdiction. However, this proposal was defeated due in large part to opposition from the United States. A compromise was reached, allowing the Court to exercise jurisdiction only under the following limited circumstances:

  • where the person accused of committing a crime is a national of a state party (or where the person’s state has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court);
  • where the alleged crime was committed on the territory of a state party (or where the state on whose territory the crime was committed has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court); or
  • Where a situation is referred to the Court by the UN Security Council.

Temporal jurisdiction

The Court’s jurisdiction does not apply retroactively: it can only prosecute crimes committed on or after 1 July 2002 (the date on which the Rome Statute entered into force). Where a state becomes party to the Rome Statute after that date, the Court can exercise jurisdiction automatically with respect to crimes committed after the Statute enters into force for that state.


The ICC is intended as a court of last resort, investigating and prosecuting only where national courts have failed. Article 17 of the Statute provides that a case is inadmissible if:

“(a) The case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution;

(b) The case has been investigated by a State which has jurisdiction over it and the State has decided not to prosecute the person concerned, unless the decision resulted from the unwillingness or inability of the State genuinely to prosecute;

(c) The person concerned has already been tried for conduct which is the subject of the complaint, and a trial by the Court is not permitted under article 20, paragraph 3;

(d) The case is not of sufficient gravity to justify further action by the Court.”

Article 20, paragraph 3, and specifies that, if a person has already been tried by another court, the ICC cannot try them again for the same conduct unless the proceedings in the other court:

“(a) Were for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

(b) Otherwise were not conducted independently or impartially in accordance with the norms of due process recognized by international law and were conducted in a manner which, in the circumstances, was inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice.