Established in 2002, the International Criminal Court was intended as an instrument to prosecute large-scale war crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity.
While the ICC delivered its first judgment on March 14, 2012 — the conviction of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga — it continues to be criticized for its political agenda and perceived ineffectiveness.
The concept of an international tribunal first emerged in the 1870s, with a view to exposing some of the atrocities of the Franco-Prussian War, and was again debated in the aftermath of the First World War.
The term genocide was coined by Polish lawyer Rafael Lemkin in 1943, based on his study of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and the activities of the Nazis during the Second World War. (To this day, Turkey denies the Armenian deaths were an act of genocide.) Lemkin’s work led to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, but the divisiveness of the Cold War scuttled attempts to create an international court.
The bloody massacres in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and East Timor in the 1990s, however, renewed interest in such a tribunal, and in July 1998, 120 countries signed the Rome Statute, which sanctified the idea of an international court. The U.S., Israel and China were among the countries that voted against the Rome Statute.
The ICC, which went into force on July 1, 2002, has been a subject of criticism. Detractors question the political motivations of chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo as well as the focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Proponents respond that the ICC has checks and balances and that all but one of the African states currently under investigation requested the ICC’s help.
Here’s a timeline of notable dates in the ICC’s history.
March 11, 2003: The ICC is inaugurated in ceremonies featuring Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein of Jordan, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
April 23, 2003: Argentinian lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo is elected as the ICC’s first prosecutor.
Oct. 14, 2005: The court announces its first arrest warrants, for five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, including Joseph Kony. Despite the ICC warrant and a viral video campaign in March 2012 decrying his use of child soldiers, Kony remains at large.
March 17, 2006: The ICC arrests Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, a military group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubanga is accused of having conscripted children under the age of 15 as soldiers to do battle with other Congolese militias between September 2002 and August 2003.
May 2, 2007: The ICC issues warrants for Sudanese nationals Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushyb for their involvement in atrocities in Darfur, Sudan.
May 2008: The court issues an arrest warrant for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, an alleged Congolese national, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the suppression of a coup d’etat in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.
Dec. 15, 2010: Moreno-Ocampo issues summons for six Kenyan nationals suspected of crimes against humanity in the violence following Kenya’s national elections in December 2007.
July 12, 2010: The ICC issues an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide committed in Darfur, a charge that stands alongside a 2009 ICC warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan is the only country under investigation that did not request intervention.
June 28, 2011: The court issues warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and military intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, claiming to have evidence the three committed crimes against humanity against political opponents.
March 14, 2012: The court hands down its first judgment, convicting Thomas Lubanga of conscripting child soldiers. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and will be sentenced following a hearing that will be scheduled later this year.