Complementarity remains a guessing game at the ICC

17 June 2015 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Recent cases at the International Criminal Court have revitalized the on-going discussion about when the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) should step in to demand that suspects be brought to The Hague and when it should let countries handle their own prosecutions.

First ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo at March 2011 press conference on situation in Libya, as successor Fatou Bensouda looks on (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
First ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo at March 2011 press conference on situation in Libya, as successor Fatou Bensouda looks on (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

The ICC is set up as a court of last resort, one meant to prosecute only those most responsible for atrocities and only when states are unwilling and unable to do so themselves. The key phrase in its founding Rome Statute is that the court is “complementary” to national criminal jurisdictions, which has come to be known as the complementarity principle.

A sentence-based complementarity?

Just last month, the appeals decision in the case against Simone Gbagbo [IJT-183] left commentators questioning why the OTP remains determined to try the former Ivorian first lady while Ivory Coast has already sentenced her to 20 years for acts that are similar though not the same as those she is charged with in The Hague.

“The big issue… is whether a very overstretched court should really be spending precious resources on fighting a battle with Ivory Coast when it was actually willing to put Simone Gbagbo on trial, even if it wasn’t for the same conduct,” Mark Kersten, a researcher at the London School of Economics and the creator of the Justice in Conflict blog, told IJT.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.