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Q&A: International Criminal Court

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Following are basic facts on the new International Criminal Court:

What is the International Criminal Court?

It is the first permanent international tribunal capable of trying individuals for the most serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

What are its aims?

Its existence is designed to serve as a deterrent to future tyrants by sending a strong signal that never again will such acts be met with impunity. Although the ICC is designed to complement existing national judicial systems, it can exercise its jurisdiction if national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes.

What crimes will it deal with?

The most serious crimes committed by individuals: genocide (with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group), crimes against humanity (including murder, extermination, rape, sexual slavery, enforced disappearances and the crime of apartheid), and war crimes and aggression and other serious violations of the laws of war.

What is the ICC's sentencing powers?

It can impose imprisonment of up to 30 years or life imprisonment when so justified by the gravity of the case. It can, in addition, order a fine, forfeiture of proceeds, property or assets derived from the committed crime. Consistent with international human rights standards, it has no authority to impose a death penalty.

What is the U.S. objection?

The United States, which signed the statute to create the court but never ratified it, is opposed to the ICC in part because it feels the treaty does not go far enough to avoid the risk of politically motivated prosecutions. It wants immunity for countries that are not party to the ICC but still contribute troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Do Washington's objections affect the court?

Only 60 U.N. member states must agree to the court for it to come into existence, so the United States' opposition is unlikely to prevent the ICC's creation or operation. There are currently 69 ratifications and 139 signatories.

What help will be given to victims and witnesses?

The ICC will set up a unit to provide protective measures and security arrangements, counselling and other assistance for witnesses and victims. It will also take appropriate measures to protect the privacy, dignity, physical and psychological well-being and security of victims and witnesses, especially when the crimes involve sexual or gender violence.

Will victims be entitled to compensation?

The ICC will establish principles for reparations to victims, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. It is empowered to determine the scope and extent of any damage, loss and injury to victims, and to order a convicted person to make specific reparation.

Is anyone immune from prosecution?

Criminal responsibility will be applied equally to all persons without distinction as to whether he or she is a Head of State or government, a member of a government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official. In addition, the fact that a crime has been committed by a person on the orders of a superior will not normally relieve that person of criminal responsibility.

Can the ICC infringe on the jurisdiction of national courts?

The ICC will not supercede, but will complement national jurisdictions. National courts will continue to have priority in investigating and prosecuting crimes within their jurisdiction. The ICC will act only when national courts are unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction.

Why another court when there is already the International Court of Justice?

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, was designed to deal primarily with disputes between nations. It has no jurisdiction over matters involving individual criminal responsibility.


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