What is the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the most important international criminal court that deals with the gravest, unpunished international crimes, such as genocide and war crimes. But what does the International Criminal Court do? And why is the International Criminal Court located in The Hague? We'll explain all of this below.

What does the International Criminal Court do?

Since 2002, the International Criminal Court has been investigating, prosecuting and trying individuals who have committed serious international crimes. The International Criminal Court focuses on four main crimes:

  1. the crime of genocide: acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
  2. crimes against humanity: crimes against population groups within or outside the context of war, such as attacks on the civilian population, ethnic cleansing and sexual violence.
  3. war crimes: serious violations of the humanitarian law of war, committed against civilians or troops.
  4. the crime of aggression: the planning, preparation, initiation or execution of a war of aggression in a manner that breaches the Charter of the United Nations (UN).

It is important to know that the International Criminal Court does not replace national courts. However, the ICC can intervene in cases where a country is unable or unwilling to initiate criminal proceedings against possible perpetrators of serious international crimes.

Put simply, the International Criminal Court aims to punish people who would otherwise go unpunished, in order to obtain justice for victims and to deter others from committing serious international crimes.

What crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal court?

The International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction is restricted; it covers only the four crimes mentioned above. And only if they were committed on the territory of one of the 123 States Parties to the Rome Statute, or were committed by nationals of these states. In addition, the ICC has jurisdiction in situations that have been referred to it by the United Nations Security Council. This possibility is particularly relevant where the crimes were committed in a state that is not party to the Rome Statute, as happened in Darfur (Sudan) and Libya, for example.

Why is the International Criminal Court located in The Hague?

The Hague is known as the legal capital of the world, and the international city of peace and justice. Thousands of people in The Hague work in the field of peace and security, at more than 130 international organisations, knowledge centres, aid organisations and companies. Examples include the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (both based in the Peace Palace) and Europol. This means that there is a great deal of legal expertise in the Netherlands and that The Hague plays an important role in international justice.

How does the International Criminal Court differ from the International Court of Justice?

See below for the most important differences and similarities between the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice:

International Criminal Court International Court of Justice
Part of the United Nations (UN)? No. The International Criminal Court is independent but cooperates closely with the UN. Yes. The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
What is its aim? To try individuals who are suspected of the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or the crime of aggression. To settle legal disputes between states, and to advise the UN on legal questions.
Where is it located? The Hague The Hague

The world’s only permanent international criminal court

The International Criminal Court has been established for an indefinite period and is not limited to a particular event or situation. This makes it the world’s only permanent international criminal court dealing with the gravest unpunished international crimes.

There are also temporary criminal courts – known as ad hoc tribunals – which are often part of the UN and focus on one particular situation. Their role is to try individuals who are responsible for grave violations of international law. Examples of direct predecessors to the ICC are the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993-2017), which was established in response to the war in the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994-2015), which was established following the Rwandan genocide.

Cases at the International Criminal Court

On the website of the International Criminal court you can find a list of all current and closed cases, as well as an up-to-date overview of the most relevant facts and figures.

If you would like to attend a hearing of the International Criminal Court, please see the Court Calendar. Underneath the Court Calendar you can also find a link to the ICC’s live web stream.

Security and justice

The International Criminal Court is working to create a safer and more just world, by investigating serious crimes and trying the perpetrators. And hopefully by deterring such crimes. What’s more, creating a more just world will also make the Netherlands safer.

As a State Party to the Rome Statute and as the ICC’s host country, the Netherlands supports the work of the ICC and other international organisations in the Netherlands by helping to strengthen the international legal order. The Netherlands also promotes the rule of law worldwide, under which not only citizens but also governments are bound by laws. In other words, no country or person is above the law.