While the International Criminal Court, ICC, has the power to hear cases within its mandate, it operates on the principle of complementarity and will only exercise its jurisdiction if national courts with jurisdiction either cannot or will not prosecute perpetrators of international crimes. The ICC may exercise jurisdiction if an accused is a national of a State Party (or if the State otherwise accepts jurisdiction), if a relevant crime occurs in the territory of a State Party, or if a situation is referred by the U.N. Security Council pursuant to its Chapter VII authority under the U.N. Charter, even if the situation occurs in a state which is not a party to the Rome Statute.  The Prosecutor has the power to initiate investigations proprio motu, if information credibly alleging the commission of crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction is received from individuals or organizations. Jurisdiction is also limited to crimes occurring after July 1, 2002, or after the relevant state ratifies the Rome Statute, whichever is later. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent international tribunal seated at The Hague which was created by the multilateral treaty known as the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute was adopted on July 17, 1998, and came into effect on July 1, 2002, domestic ratification by sixty State Parties. The ICC was created to prosecute the most serious international crimes. Its mandate includes genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The crime of aggression was added by a subsequent review conference in Kampala, Uganda, in 2010.

To date, the Court has had three situations referred to it via State Parties, by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The U.N. Security Council has referred the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan and the situation in Libya. Neither are State Parties. The Prosecutor has initiated investigations into the situation in Kenya and the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.


 On March 31, 2005, the U.N. Security Council referred the situation in Darfur, Sudan, to the ICC by Security Council Resolution 1593. Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo began the investigation on June 6, 2005. The first arrest warrants were issued February 7, 2007, for Ahmad Muhammad Harun (Former Minister of State for the Interior of Sudan, currently Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan) and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (known as Ali Kushayb). Harun is alleged to have used his position to coordinate, fund, and direct the activities of the Janjaweed. As leader of the Janjaweed, Kushayb has been charged with twenty-two counts of crimes against humanity and twenty-eight counts of war crimes. Also at large is Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Minister of National Defense and formerly the President’s Special Representative in Darfur, who was charged with multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity on March 1, 2012.

President Omar al-Bashir, an Islamist who seized power in a 1989 coup in Sudan

Omar al-Bashir

On March 4, 2009, the Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, charging him with multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A second arrest warrant was later added on July 12, 2010, adding charges of genocide. The allegations against al-Bashir accuse the leader of directing and causing the atrocities committed in Darfur by his government and by government-backed militias. The arrest warrants from the ICC prevent him from traveling to countries who are State Parties to the Rome Statute and added scrutiny and pressure to curb atrocities committed on behalf of the Sudanese government. He is the only sitting president with a current arrest warrant from the ICC.

Though the government of Sudan is the only faction to be accused of genocide, it is not the only one to accused of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC. In May of 2009, a summons to appear before the Court was issued for Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, Chairman and General Coordinator if Military Operations of the United Resistance Front on allegations of war crimes. However, following a hearing in February of 2010, charges were not confirmed. Abdallah Banda Anakaer Nourain, Commander of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus, former Chief of Staff for the Sudanese Liberation Army, both appeared voluntarily before the Court on June 17, 2010. Charges against both on three counts of war crimes were confirmed by the Court in March of 2011, and the cases were set for trial. Jamus died in April 2013, before he could be tried.

This page was written jointly by Christie Nicoson, Former Program and Operations Coordinator, Lisa Dailey, Former News Associate, and Rachel Hall Beecroft, Former Program and Operations Coordinator. This page was updated 2/21/17.

Download a one page PDF summary of this information here.

Other Resources

Report on the 12th Session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, Coalition for the International Criminal Court, 20-28 November 2013, The Hague, The Netherlands. [download]

Obtaining Victim Status for Purposes of Participating at the International Criminal Court, American University, December 2013. [download]

The Growing Importance of the International Criminal Court, by Naseem Kourosh, The Georgetown Journal, 27 January 2014.