Exploring International Criminal Law: A global pursuit of justice

The article “Exploring International Criminal Law: A Global Pursuit of justice” is written by Aditi Parihar, a student of Lovely Professional University.

The legal framework that determines an individual’s criminal liability for grave transgressions of international law is known as international criminal law or ICL. Crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and aggression are all included. Icl first came into being as a reaction to the horrors of World War ii, but it has now expanded to include more recent world issues. Because it helps resolve atrocities and encourage accountability on a worldwide basis, international criminal law is significant. Icl acts as a deterrence to future crimes and promotes a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law by holding people accountable for their conduct, regardless of their official capacity or nationality.

To bring those responsible for mass atrocities to justice and make sure they are held accountable, international criminal law (icl) is essential. It offers a structure for bringing cases against those accountable for serious human rights breaches in front of international tribunals like the International Criminal Court (ICC), special international criminal courts, or national courts using the doctrine of universal jurisdiction.

Moreover, by addressing the underlying causesof violence and aiding in the transition to stable, democratic societies, international criminal law acts as a tool for fostering peace and reconciliation in areas afflicted by conflict. Icl helps to rebuild community trust and avert future hostilities by bringing legal action against those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Historical background

Origin of International Criminal Law

The first known legal systems that addressed crimes committed outside state lines can be found in the ancient civilizations that gave rise to international criminal law (all). However the horrors of World War ii were the main reason for the development of the present idea of ICL.

Nuremberg and Tokyo trials: The Allied powers held the Nuremberg trials (1945–1946) and the Tokyo trials (1946–1948) to bring cases against those who had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave transgressions of international law after world war ii. These cases established the groundwork for the emergence of contemporary

International criminal justice is the first large-scale example of ICL. the 1948 United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was a critical turning point in the development of international criminal law. The agreement required states to prevent and punish genocide and established it as a crime under international law.

Ad hoc international tribunals: The United Nations Security Council founded the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ictr) in reaction to crimes carried out during hostilities in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The prosecution of those guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide was the responsibility of these ad hoc tribunals, which further cemented the place of international criminal justice in addressing mass atrocities.

The International Criminal Court (icc) and the Rome statute: an important step toward the institutionalization of international criminal law was the Rome Statute’s formation of the International Criminal Court in 2002. As the first permanent international court, the icc has the authority to hear cases involving suspects in the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and aggression. It is an essential tool for guaranteeing responsibility and advancing justice worldwide.

The core principle of international criminal law

Individual criminal responsibility

Individual criminal responsibility, as defined by international criminal law (icl), holds people responsible for grave transgressions of international law, such as aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. This idea is predicated on the knowledge that everyone, regardless of their official position or nationality, is subject to personal accountability for their acts. Numerous international agreements, including customary international law and the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), uphold the idea of individual criminal responsibility. These legal frameworks allow for the prosecution and punishment of persons who participate in the commission, planning, facilitation, or aiding and abetting of international crimes.

When national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute someone accused of the most serious crimes of international significance, the ICC has the jurisdiction to do so. Ad hoc

International tribunals have also been set up to try people for crimes committed during particular conflicts. Examples of these tribunals are the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty) and the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ictr). Individual criminal responsibility fosters accountability, acts as a deterrent to future crimes, and helps to safeguard the rule of law and human rights globally. It emphasizes the idea that everyone is subject to the law and that those who commit crimes against humanity must be held accountable.

Types of crimes under international law

Several categories of crimes are considered major transgressions of international law under international criminal law (icl). Among these offences are:

Genocide– according to the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group is considered to have been destroyed if any of the following actions are carried out to do so: killing group members, seriously injuring group members physically or mentally, imposing measures meant to prevent group members from having children within the group, and forcibly transferring group members’ children to another group.

War crimes: typically perpetrated during armed conflicts, war crimes are grave breaches of the rules and conventions of war. These include acts like using child troops, targeting civilians or civilian property, deporting or transferring people illegally, torturing or inhumanely treating victims, and destroying facilities or personnel working for humanitarian causes.

Crimes against humanity: attacks that target any civilian population on a large-scale or deliberate basis are considered crimes against humanity. These atrocities consist of killing, eradicating, enslaving, deporting, imprisoning, torturing, raping, persecuting, forcing one’s disappearance, and other cruel deeds that result in extreme agony or grave harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

Crimes of aggression: using armed force against another state in defiance of the United Nations Charter is referred to as aggression. The planning, starting, or carrying out of an aggressive act, as well as involvement in a group plot or conspiracy to carry out an aggressive act, are all considered crimes of aggression.

Jurisdiction and principle of complementarily


In international criminal law (icl), jurisdiction and the complementarity principle are basic ideas that control the venue and process of prosecution for those charged with severe crimes. Gaining an understanding of these principles is essential to guaranteeing efficient implementation of international criminal justice and encouraging responsibility for serious human rights breaches. Let us explore each of these ideas:

The term “jurisdiction” describes the power vested in a court or legal system to decide cases and uphold the law over specified people or institutions or within a given area. Regarding international criminal law, there exist diverse categories of jurisdiction.

  1. Territorial jurisdiction: regardless of the victim’s or offender’s nationality, a state has jurisdiction over crimes committed inside its However, because international crimes are transnational in nature, territorial jurisdiction over them may transcend national boundaries.
  2. Nationality jurisdiction: depending on the state’s laws and the concept of universal jurisdiction, which enables states to prosecute people for specific crimes regardless of the location of the crimes or the nationality of the offender or victim, states may have jurisdiction over their citizens for crimes committed abroad.
  3. The passive mindset jurisdiction: even in cases where crimes against its citizens take place outside of their borders, several states maintain their jurisdiction over such
  4. Universal jurisdiction: this idea permits states to bring criminal charges against people for some serious offenses, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture, irrespective of the location of the crimes, the nationality of the offender or victim, or any other relationship to the state.
  5. International jurisdiction: people accused of the most heinous crimes of international concern, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression, are subject to the jurisdiction of international criminal tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court (icc). In situations where states are unable or unwilling to pursue specific persons for international crimes, they may turn to international jurisdiction, which is a supplement to national jurisdiction.

Principle of complementarity

The Rome statute, which established the International Criminal Court, upholds the principle of complementarity, which states that the icc is an adjunct to national criminal jurisdictions. This concept states that the icc may only step in when national judicial systems are incapable or unwilling to look into and bring charges against people who are allegedly involved in international crimes. Complementarity guarantees that the ICC is a court of last resort and encourages states to fortify their legal systems. It upholds states’ sovereignty and encourages them to assume lead roles in the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases involving transnational crimes that are under their purview. To foster collaboration between domestic and international criminal justice systems, the icc only steps in when national legal systems are unable or unwilling to do so.

International criminal tribunals and courts

International criminal court(icc)

International criminal tribunals’ composition, authority, and operation are essential elements in the worldwide struggle against impunity and the advancement of justice.

Structure: judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers, and other staff members required for the administration of justice normally make up international criminal tribunals. Trial chambers, appellate chambers for appeals, and other specialized rooms for certain purposes may be available in the courts.

Jurisdiction: people suspected of committing major crimes of international significance, like aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, can be brought before international criminal courts. Depending on the goals and legal system of the particular court, jurisdiction may be established based on territoriality, nationality, or universal jurisdiction.

Functioning: international criminal courts use established legal procedures and principles to ensure fair and unbiased trials. They look into claims, compile evidence, listen to arguments made by the prosecution and defense, and then make decisions based on the information they have seen. Appeals procedures guarantee the right to a fair trial and the ability to redress legal errors. International criminal courts may also take part in outreach initiatives to increase public awareness of their work and encourage collaboration with impacted communities.

Ad hoc tribunals and their contribution to international justice

In the context of international criminal law, “ad hoc tribunals” refer to provisional judicial bodies that have been set up by the un or other international organizations to try people who have seriously violated international law, especially when there has been an armed conflict or

A mass atrocity. These tribunals are usually established for particular cases and have the authority to hear cases including crimes like aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Ad hoc tribunals were created in response to the need fo r justice and accountability in cases when national legal systems might not be able or would not want to bring charges against offenders.

Some notable instances of ad hoc tribunals are:

The UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty) in 1993 in reaction to the atrocities carried out during the hostilities in the former Yugoslavia. Accountability and reconciliation in the region were aided by the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda’s prosecution of those charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The UN Security council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ictr) in 1994 in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Those in charge of organizing and carrying out the genocide as well as other grave transgressions of international humanitarian law were brought to justice by the ICTR.

The UN and the sierra Leonean government jointly established the special court for Sierra Leone in 2002 to bring cases against those guilty of grave crimes during the country’s civil war. Notably, charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was found guilty by the court of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Accountability: ad hoc tribunals have been essential in making people answerable for grave transgressions of international law, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. By bringing charges against senior government officials and military commanders accountable for crimes, these courts have made it clear that impunity will not be allowed.

Precedent-setting: by setting legal precedents and providing clarification on the meaning of important legal concepts, ad hoc courts have made a significant contribution to the evolution of international criminal law. These tribunals have rendered significant rulings that have contributed to the definition of crime elements, responsibility structures, and international humanitarian law tenets.

Promotion of reconciliation: ad hoc tribunals have helped to foster reconciliation and rebuild confidence amongst communities impacted by conflict via their judicial actions and outreach programs. These tribunals have helped communities ripped apart by violence and rebuild by giving victims a forum to talk about their experiences and pursue justice.

Challenges and criticism

There are several obstacles and objections to international criminal law (icl), originating from both theoretical and practical issues. Among these objections and critiques are:

  • Enforcement: enforcing international criminal law is one of its main problems. Even though international criminal tribunals are designed to bring cases against those accountable for serious transnational crimes, they frequently lack the means to effectively implement their rulings. This restriction may compromise international justice’s legitimacy and efficacy.
  • Selective justice: opponents contend that the administration of international criminal law is frequently biased, singling out offenders from particular conflicts or countries while ignoring others. This alleged prejudice may add to suspicions of political influence and threaten the credibility of international criminal tribunals.
  • Restricted jurisdiction: the limited jurisdiction of international criminal tribunals can make it difficult for them to handle all cases of major international Political considerations may lead to certain crimes going unpunished, as the jurisdiction of the international criminal court (icc) is dependent on state assent or referral by the un security council.
  • Resource restrictions: the inability of international criminal courts to carry out exhaustive investigations and prosecutions may be impacted by their lack of financing and staff. This may lead to obstacles, inefficiencies, and delays in providing victims with prompt justice.
  • Impunity of powerful actors: opponents contend that international criminal law frequently does not hold military commanders and political leaders responsible for their

Acts. Certain people’s immunity can reinforce cycles of impunity and weaken the deterrent effect of international justice.

  • Legitimacy and cultural sensitivity: reaching an agreement on legal norms and principles can be difficult when dealing with cultural and legal variances across states, which is a challenge for international criminal law. In the view of impacted communities, critics also question the legitimacy of international criminal tribunals, especially when they are thought to be enforcing western legal standards without giving local settings enough thought.
  • Complexity and length of proceedings: due to the involvement of several parties, languages, and legal systems, international criminal proceedings are frequently long and complex. This may cause obstacles and delays in providing victims and their communities with prompt justice.

Contemporary issues and case studies

Recent developments in international criminal law

Two noteworthy instances of recent advancements in international criminal law are the trials of isis fighters and the genocide against the Rohingya people:

Prosecution of ISIS fighters

International efforts have been made in recent years to bring war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide charges against members of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (isis). Several nations, including Iraq, have filed lawsuits against isis members for their roles in the crimes carried out in both Syria and Iraq. International organizations that have expressed interest in prosecuting isis fighters for their acts include the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Genocide against the Rohingya

The world community has strongly denounced the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar as genocide. Muslims known as Rohingyas have been subjected to systematic persecution, acts of violence, and forced relocation by the military and government of Myanmar. As a result, attempts have been made to use legal channels like the ICC and international tribunals to hold the Myanmar government responsible for abuses of human rights. The Gambia filed a lawsuit at the International Court of justice (icj) in 2019, alleging that Myanmar had committed genocide against the Rohingya people. The application of

International criminal law to confront mass atrocities and advance accountability for human rights breaches has advanced significantly as a result of this case.

Landmark cases before international tribunals and their implications

The evolution of international criminal law has been influenced by several seminal cases heard by international courts, which have also had a big impact on justice, accountability, and human rights protection. Among the noteworthy instances are:

The Nuremberg trials, which took place in 1945–1946, were the first international criminal trials following world war ii to try nazi leaders for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. These trials created the precedent that anybody, regardless of official rank, might be held legally responsible for atrocities under international law. The Nuremberg trials left a legacy that paved the way for the creation of later international criminal courts and contemporary international criminal law.

The former Yugoslavian international criminal tribunal (ICTY): people guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia were brought before the international criminal tribunal for justice (icty). Two of the most significant cases before the ICTY are the convictions of radovan karadžić and ratko mladić for crimes related to the srebrenica massacre, including genocide. These cases established crucial precedents for holding military and political figures responsible for crimes carried out in the course of hostilities.

The international criminal tribunal for rwanda (ictr):the purpose of the international criminal tribunal for rwanda (ictr) is to bring cases against those accountable for the 1994 genocide in rwanda, which claimed the lives of an estimated 800,000 people. The conviction of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of a Rwandan commune, for his role in inciting and orchestrating acts of genocide is one of the landmark cases before the ictr. These trials advanced international jurisprudence on the crime of genocide and emphasized the significance of individual criminal liability for participating in genocide.

Efforts to expand the scope of international criminal law to include new reforms

Attempts to broaden the definition of international criminal law to cover new areas, such as cybercrimes and environmental crimes, are a reflection of how global issues are changing and How legal frameworks must change to meet new difficulties. These activities include a range of projects designed to improve justice, and accountability, and fill up the gaps in current international law. Important advancements in this area include:

Environmental crimes

The necessity of addressing environmental crimes as grave breaches of international law, including illegal wildlife trafficking, pollution, deforestation, and ecocide, is becoming increasingly apparent. The following initiatives are being made to broaden the definition of environmental crimes under international criminal law:

  • Suggestions to create an international environmental court (IEC) or include environmental offences under the purview of already-existing international criminal
  • Argues for the creation of a new treaty that specifically addresses environmental offences or the inclusion of environmental crimes in the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • Regional efforts, such as establishing courts specifically for environmental matters or fortifying national laws to bring charges against those who violate the


As cyberattacks become more common, cybercrimes have become a serious threat to international security and stability. The following are some initiatives being taken to combat cybercrimes under international criminal law:

  • Demands the creation of international agreements or guidelines aimed at combating cybercrimes, including as identity theft, hacking, cyber espionage, and
  • Improvements to international collaboration in cybercrime investigations and prosecutions, as well as improvements to national laws and law enforcement capacities to combat cybercrimes.
  • Include crimes relating to cyberspace under the purview of already-existing international criminal tribunals or specialized courts for cybercrime.

Numerous obstacles lie in the way of these attempts to broaden the application of international criminal law to cover cybercrimes and environmental crimes, such as jurisdictional concerns,

The intricacy of legal frameworks, and the requirement for global agreement on definitions and standards. But in a world growing more interconnected by the day, they also present chances to improve accountability, fortify international cooperation, and confront new dangers. In order to effectively address environmental crimes and cybercrimes, it is crucial to give priority to the establishment of efficient legal processes and enforcement tactics as conversations and initiatives in these areas continue to emerge.

The future of international criminal law

Potential reforms to enhance the  effectiveness  and efficiency of international criminal justice mechanism

The following are some possible changesto improve the efficacy and efficiency of international criminal justice mechanisms:

  • Enhancing global coordination and collaboration between international tribunals and national courts.
  • Increasing victims’ access to the legal system, notably through victim involvement initiatives and legal assistance.
  • Improving the ability and resources of international criminal courts to clear backlogs and speed up trials.
  • Fostering accountability among the governments and people in charge of undermining the rule of law or refusing to assist in global criminal investigations and prosecutions.
  • Stepping up outreach and educational initiatives to spread respect for human rights and the rule of law and to increase awareness of international criminal law.

Strengthening cooperation between states and international organizations

To ensure that major international crimes are held accountable and that international criminal justice procedures operate effectively, governments and international organizations must work together more closely. Several things may be done to improve this cooperation:

  • Information sharing: by exchanging pertinent data, intelligence, and proof about international crimes, states and international organizations can strengthen their collaboration. This information sharing is  essential for carrying out in-depth

Investigations, bringing criminal charges against offenders, and maintaining the integrity of court cases.

  • Building capability: states, especially those with limited resources or institutional capability, can benefit from technical help and capacity-building support from international organizations to enhance their ability to successfully investigate and prosecute international crimes. This could involve providing instruction on international criminal law and procedural requirements to law enforcement officers, attorneys, and judicial staff.
  • Mutual legal help: through agreements for mutual legal help, states can improve collaboration by making it easier to share information, carry out court orders, and enforce rulings internationally. By establishing procedures for states to support one another with criminal investigations and prosecutions, these accords encourage cooperation in the fight against transnational crime.
  • Coordination of efforts: in the battle against international crimes, states and international organizations can coordinate their efforts to meet shared challenges and This could entail forming collaborative task teams, exchanging best practices, and organizing tactics to tackle particular categories of criminal activity, including human trafficking, terrorism, or cybercrime.
  • Respect for human rights and sovereignty: the values of respect for human rights, sovereignty, and the rule of law need to serve as a foundation for cooperation between nations and international institutions. To combat impunity and advance accountability for severe international crimes, states must respect their legal responsibilities under international law and work with international organizations.

Role of Civil Society and Non-governmental Organizations in Promoting Accountability and Justice

In the area of international criminal law, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are essential for advancing justice and accountability. Their varied contributions include victim support, legal aid, advocacy, monitoring, and capacity-building initiatives. Among the crucial facets of their work are:

  • Advocacy and awareness: international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups work to increase public knowledge of transnational crimes, promote the ratification and enforcement of international treaties and conventions, and influence governments and other international organizations to support accountability systems.
  • Monitoring and documentation: these groups keep an eye out for violations of human rights, record evidence of transnational crimes, and supply vital data to assist national and international criminal courts’ and tribunals’ investigations and
  • Legal support and expertise: non-governmental organizations (ngos) offer victims and survivors of transnational crimes legal aid, including counseling, support services, and representation in court. Additionally, they provide knowledge of international criminal law, which enhances the ability of institutions and
  • Victim support and advocacy: ngos and civil society organizations: these groups promote awareness of the experiences of victims of international crimes, fight for their rights, and offer support services to enable victims to get justice, compensation, and psychosocial support.
  • Ngos participate in training and capacity-building programs: to improve the abilities and understanding of journalists, human rights advocates, lawyers, and other stakeholders in the promotion of justice and accountability. These programs support national institutions’ ability to successfully investigate and punish foreign


To sum up, international criminal law is an essential foundation for dealing with the worst human rights abuses and making sure those who commit major international crimes are held accountable. Significant progress has been made in the prosecution of those guilty of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression thanks to the establishment of international criminal tribunals like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ad hoc tribunals like the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty) and the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ictr).international criminal law promotes accountability and human rights respect globally by acting as a disincentive to impunity. It helps impacted communities heal and come together by giving victims a way to seek justice and compensation for the harm they have endured. Furthermore, attempts are being made to address newly developing issues like cybercrimes and environmental crimes, as well as to broaden the definition of accountability to include new types of atrocities, as international criminal law continues to develop.

International criminal law does, however, also encounter difficulties, such as resource limitations, selective prosecutions, and gaps in enforcement. States, international organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders must remain committed to addressing these issues by bolstering legislative frameworks, ensuring the efficient application of international criminal justice processes, and fostering cooperation. despite these obstacles, international criminal law continues to be a vital instrument for safeguarding the rule of law, encouraging stability and peace, and expanding the protection of human rights in a world growing more interconnected by the day. It is impossible to overestimate the role that international criminal law plays in helping the international community achieve its ongoing goals of justice and accountability.


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