The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates and prosecutes the most serious international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In order to ensure that the Court’s resources are dedicated to only the most serious crimes of international concern, its Office of the Prosecutor receives and analyses referrals to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with investigations and to conduct prosecutions. This process includes conducting preliminary investigations.
The Office of the Prosecutor is headed by the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who was elected by the Assembly of States Parties by consensus.
The Office of the Prosecutor comprises three divisions:
- Investigation Division – responsible for conducting investigations which typically involves collecting and examining evidence (both incriminating and exonerating), questioning those being investigated, as well as victims and witnesses.
- Prosecution Division – has principal responsibility for the litigation of proceedings before the Court, and also plays a role in the investigative process.
- Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division – responsible for external relations and securing the cooperation needed for the activities of the Office. Also analyses referrals and communications, with support from the Investigation Division.
How may an investigation be initiated?
Investigations may be commenced by the Prosecutor in two key ways:
- Following a referral by a State Party or by the United Nations Security Council.
- Under the Prosecutor’s own propio motu powers, on the territory or against nationals of a State Party. Confirmation by a Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court is required before this can proceed.
The Rome Statute is the Court’s founding treaty. The Statute provides that the Office of the Prosecutor shall act independently, and not act on instructions from any external source, such as States or international organisations.
The Statute also recognises that the primary responsibility for bringing war criminals and the like to justice lies with the relevant State, and that the ICC may be seen as a ‘last resort’ if important issues of concern to the international community are not being sufficiently addressed at this level.