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United States Foreign Policy and the
Role of the International Criminal Court

Since 1948, the United Nations, has recognized the need for an international criminal court in the interest of securing universal human rights. An initial outline of the court was prepared in 1951, but its establishment was delayed in order to develop a consensus on the role of the court and its jurisdiction. In 1994, the International Law Commission prepared a draft statute for submission to the United Nations General Assembly.

The International Criminal Court is designed to provide enforcement, individual accountability and prosecution for crimes against humanity such as genocide. In addition, the International Criminal Court is a mechanism that is not limited to the jurisdiction of ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda . Furthermore, this court may take over where states are not willing to act, in order to prevent further impunity of government officials.

The United States signed the Rome Statute on December 31, 2000 yet to date has not ratified the document, and is therefore not a party to it. Although the United States government recognizes the rights under international law, the government has several problems with the enactment of the International Criminal Court. As explained by Marc Grossman, the U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs in May of 2002, in his remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States believes that states, not international institutions, are primarily responsible for ensuring justice within the international system. Second, the United States contends that the International Criminal Court undermines the role of the United Nations Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. Third, the government recognizes the importance of checks and balances, but believes that the Rome Statute provides the Court with overly broad jurisdiction. Moreover, the United States acknowledges the importance of international criminal enforcement, but contends that an extension of international criminal jurisdiction over states without their express consent is an erosion of national sovereignty, and that human freedom may be protected through the strengthening of domestic judicial frameworks. Overall, the U.S. position on the International Criminal Court may undermine the potential effectiveness of the body as a whole.

There are currently 139 signatories and 89 parties of the Rome Statute. The treaty went into effect on the 1st of July 2002 in accordance with Article 26 of the United Nations Charter .

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Written March 5, 2003; Last updated August 23, 2007.


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