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International Criminal Law

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Stelios from Vision Factory

Author: Stelios Bitzilekis

Date of Publication: 27/05/2023

International criminal law refers to a system of legislation that regulates international crimes. Such crimes are the ones against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity. In fact, these international crimes are of vital importance to be tackled and punished. That’s why cooperation between states is crucial.

Additionally, it is important that as many states as possible recognise such malevolent actions as international crimes. So, having a common ground for their punishment is crucial. The international criminal law recognised in the past that subjects of criminal liability can be states or international organisations. However, today's system only recognises persons as such.

Anyway, international criminal law has been shaped throughout time because of various cases of international importance. All these cases have pushed for the necessity of legal stability, concerning the field of international criminal law. Eventually this advance led to the system of today’s legislation

The History of International Criminal Courts

The History of International Criminal Courts

Every international court has been created for a specific case, the crimes of which they are punished. Actually, it was a necessity to deliver justice for a specific case that led to their creation. So, after justice was delivered upon each case, they ceased to exist. Therefore, they were emporary. Such examples of Criminal Court are the international court for Crimes in Rwanda. Likewise, it’s the Nuremberg Court after world war II and the Courts of former Yugoslavia.

Things in common and differences

All of these courts were occasional courts. This term simply means that they were created based on a single historical event with international criminal content. For example, the courts of Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created by the decision of the security council of the United Nations. On the other hand, the Nuremberg court was created by the victorious powers of WWII.

International Criminal Court laws and jurisdiction

The Convention of Rome founded the international criminal court in 1998 and it has many differences from the pre-existing ones. The most important of these is that this court recognizes only natural persons as subjects of international criminal liability. In other words, it doesn’t accept states or organizations. This aims directly to prosecute and punish these persons, who operate criminally.

Another significant difference is that it is signed by 123 states. Therefore it isn’t a temporary court which also adds a very important characteristic. Its legislation exists prior to every crime that falls under its jurisdiction. Also, it isn’t created after the crimes have been committed as was the case with the previous courts. Moreover, it has a lot more legitimacy than the previous temporary courts because of the number of states which participate in it.

Jurisdiction can be separated in the following categories:

Material refers to the crimes of:


Crimes against humanity

War crimes

Crime of aggression

Local jurisdiction

The court has jurisdiction over crimes that occur on the ground of a state member. It also has jurisdiction for crimes committed by a person with the ethnicity of a state member of the convention of the International Criminal Court.

Limits of jurisdiction

The courts of member states are first to apply their laws for these international crimes. What’s more, the punishment needs to be equal to the importance and severity of the committed crimes. This way, actual justice is delivered and guaranteed. The international court has jurisdiction to prosecute and punish committed crimes as the last solution. That happens only when a state member fails to prosecute when needed, doesn’t have the means to do so, or pretends to do so (sham proceeding).

Temporal competence

The court has jurisdiction for every international crime that has happened since 01.07.2002.


The procedure of criminal prosecution starts when a member state applies for it (self-referrals) to an international criminal court. Additionally, it can start by the decision of the UN's security council and by the application of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.


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