Inside Story

Can the ICC deliver impartial justice?

Determined to end impunity across the globe, we ask if the ICC can work efficiently in a politically polarised world.

On July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the only permanent criminal tribunal set up to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, came into force.

“There is a perception or there is a politicisation of the ICC process in Africa and I think it is done as part of perpetuating impunity so you cannot win in the corridors of justice therefore perpetuate [a] political process.

– Hassan Omar Hassan, Kenyan National Human Rights commission

A decade later, it has been ratified by 121 states with another 32 intending to join. The US and China, however, have opted not to.

In its 10 years, the ICC has only made one conviction – Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord found guilty of recruiting child soldiers.

Critics say the ICC has made slow progress, with much, if not all of its focus on Africa.

Apart from the case involving Lubanga, which took six years to reach a conviction, the court has issued arrest warrants for 20 individuals, notably Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son; Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president; and Joseph Kony.

“The bigh fish – the United States and the NATO nations – are free to violate the international law, to violate human rights with complete impunity. Since the ICC was founded, the United States invaded Iraq …. Israel attacked Gaza, targetted a civilian population … so it seems these rules apply only to weak nations.

– Kimberley Margaret, editor of the website Black Agenda Report

There are currently five people in custody:

  • Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes
  • Germain Katanga, a Congolese leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force. Charges against him include murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers
  • Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a colonel in the Congolese army and a commander of the Patriotic Resistance Front. He faces three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes
  • Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice-president of Congo, was charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes
  • Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivorian president, faces four charges of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence and persecution

So far the office of the prosecutor has failed to pursue any investigations outside Africa. This criticism was put to Fatou Bensouda, the new ICC chief prosecutor, but she denied any bias against Africa.

“We are not in Africa by choice. We did not go to Africa to try cases because that’s what we wanted to do. I have said and I continue to repeat that Africa is taking leadership in international criminal justice. And this has to be realised, and this has to be adjusted to,” said Bensouda.

“I can cite the cases that we have in Africa and how we got there. All of the cases in fact accept the Kenya case are invitiations by the African states for ICC intervention,” she added.

Inside Story asks: Can the ICC deliver impartial justice? And with only one suspect convicted so far, has the the Court fulfilled its basic mission?

To answer this question, presenter Ghida Fakhry, is joined by guests: Mark Kersten, a researcher at London School of Economics and specialist on the international criminal justice system, the ICC and conflict resolution; Kimberley Margaret, a senior columnist and editor for the website Black Agenda Report; and Hassan Omar Hassan from the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission.

“I will go to any place that the crimes under the jurisidiction of the court are being committed and nothing is being done to address them. Whether it is in Africa or outside of Africa. I’m not ruling out cases outside of Africa. But my mandate dictates that I go where ICC has jurisdiction, where the crimes are being committed and it is not being addressed at the national level.”

 Fatou Bensouda, the new ICC chief prosecutor



  • July 1, marked the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the Rome statute
  • The Rome statute established first permanent international court – the ICC
  • The ICC has indicted 28 people including LRA chief Joseph Kony
  • ICC prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide
  • As of 2012, 121 states have signed statute that governs the ICC
  • Seven countries voted against statute including US and China
  • The ICC is an independent body funded mainly by member states
  • All 15 cases currently being probed by ICC are from Africa
  • Some criticise ICC for its focus on crimes committed by Africans
  • ICC is also criticised for taking too long to try and convict suspects
  • ICC took more than six years to convict Thomas Lubanga
  • The ICC says it is ‘a court of last resort’