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What sort of crimes

What sorts of crimes?

International justice is not only a matter for law professionals. Learn about international crimes and the role of the courts.

What is an international crime?

International crimes are actions that jeopardise the peace or security of the international order.

International crimes are:

  • Genocide, which is an act committed with the intention of destroying, in full or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such;
  • Crimes against humanity, that is, acts committed knowingly, in the context of a widespread or systematic attack, launched against any civilian population: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, enforced disappearance of persons;
  • War crimes, which are serious infringements of the laws and war practices essentially codified in the Geneva Conventions: intentional homicide, large-scale destruction of property, etc;
  • The crime of aggression, which is an illegal decision (by a head of State) to use armed force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State.

International criminal justice

Deportations, tortures, rapes, “ethnic cleansing”, murders of civilians, the wounded, prisoners of war, mass executions: these are the atrocities concerning which the international community has gradually drawn up rules to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. In other words, international society has created juridical norms in order to assert that certain behaviours are “international crimes” and to organise the punishment of the perpetrators. International criminal justice consists of a set of rules and institutions which control and organise the punishment of the individuals responsible for serious infringements of international law.

Rome Statute

On 17 July 1998, the international community took a historic step when 120 States ratified the Rome Statute, the juridical base for the creation of the permanent international criminal Court. The Rome Statute came into force on 1 July 2002, after ratification by 60 countries.

Complementarity is one of the founding principles of the Rome Statute system. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the party States to investigate and prosecute international crimes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court of “last resort” which only intervenes when national courts do not punish international crimes.

International Criminal Court

Governed by the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was the first permanent international criminal court founded by treaty to help put an end to the impunity of the perpetrators of the most serious crimes concerning the international community. The ICC is an independent international organisation, and does not belong to the United Nations system. Its headquarters are in The Hague, the Netherlands. The international community, which for a long time has aspired to create a permanent international court, in the 20th century arrived at a consensus on a definition for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials prosecuted perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity committed during the second world war. In the 90s, after the end of the Cold War, courts such as the international criminal courts for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda arose from a consensus to refuse impunity. Nevertheless, as these courts were set up to try crimes committed during specific periods and conflicts, it ultimately became necessary to set up an independent and permanent criminal court.