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International criminal law is a rapidly evolving area of public international law. It differs from other areas of international law as it concerns the investigation and prosecution of individuals, rather than the state.
To date, there is no internationally-accepted definition of an “international crime” nor is there a uniform list of all the possible international crimes. There is however a set of “core” crimes that have been recognised by the international community as the most serious threats to peace and security. These are genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression (also known as crimes against peace).
A number of international criminal courts and tribunals have been established to investigate and prosecute these “core” crimes. For instance, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia both hear allegations of international crimes committed in their respective countries. Separately, the International Criminal Court (“the ICC”) has a wider reaching jurisdiction and can investigate and prosecute international crime in a number of countries.
The ICC was founded by a multilateral treaty – the Rome Statute – that came into force on 1 July 2002. The Rome Statute has been ratified by 124 signatories, and all parties to the Statute are subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction. Under this principle, any relevant crime committed in the territory of a party, or by a citizen of a party, can be subject to an investigation and prosecution by the ICC. However, the ICC’s jurisdiction is not retrospective, which means that the Court can only investigate and prosecute conduct that occurred after 1 July 2002.
In addition, the ICC operates under the principle of complementarity, meaning primacy over prosecutions for crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression is given to national courts. However, if it is determined that national courts are unable or unwilling to undertake appropriate prosecutions, then the jurisdiction of the ICC will be triggered.
BCL has an in depth understanding of the complexities of this constantly developing area of law. Over many years, we have grown an extensive network of contacts and close working relationships with similarly specialist lawyers around the world. This has allowed us to provide the very best advice to clients subject to an international criminal investigation.
We also have considerable first-hand experience of defending allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, having worked on a number of cases involving ICC investigations and prosecutions. We were part of the team that successfully defended President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya during a high profile ICC investigation into alleged crimes against humanity. Our expert advice and guidance resulted in all charges against President Kenyatta being dropped in 2014.