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The International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 as a permanent international tribunal to try cases against people who commit serious violations of international law, including war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The creation of the ICC resulted from numerous human rights atrocities over the last half of a century (i.e., World War II, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone).

In this lesson, students learn about the ICC and why the U.S. has hesitated to join it. After researching the issues, students will write an editorial explaining why the U.S. should or should not support the ICC.


Students will

* Understand the history and establishment of the ICC,

* Analyze part of the Rome Statute (primary source document), and

* Evaluate whether the U.S. should support the ICC.

Standards Addressed

Taken from National Standards for Civics and Government (developed and published by the Center for Civic Education)

* Standard I B2: The rule of law. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the importance of the rule of law and on the sources, purposes, and functions of law.

* Standard IV A2: Interactions among nation-states. Students should be able to explain how nation-states interact with each other.

* Standard IV A3: International organizations. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the purposes and functions of international organizations in the world today.

* Standard IV C5: United States and international organizations. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions about what the relationship of the U.S. should be to international organizations.


* "The International Criminal Court" handout;

* "American Foreign Policy and the International Criminal Court" handout;

* "Rebuttal Points" handout;

* "The ICC: Should the U.S. Join?" handout.


1. Is there a need for an international criminal court?

Ask the students what should happen to people who commit grave atrocities against humanity. For example, Adolf Hitler, loser Stalin, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, and Slobodan Milosevic all committed heinous crimes such as ordering the torture and murder of thousands or millions of people.

Many countries of the world feel there is a need for an international criminal court that would try these types of individuals when the national courts cannot or will not do so.

2. Read about the establishment of the ICC.

Distribute "The International Criminal Court" handout to each student. Have them read the basic facts about the ICC and discuss as a class.

3. Discuss why the U.S. refuses to join the ICC.

In pairs, have students read two handouts presenting opposing sides about joining the ICC. Then have students answer the questions in pairs. Discuss as a class. The handouts are:

* "American Foreign Policy and the International Criminal Court," with excerpts from Under Secretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman's speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies

* "Rebuttal Points"

4. Create an editorial page addressing the pros and cons of the U.S. joining the ICC.

* Distribute "The ICC: Should the U.S. Join?" handout. Have students work in pairs and research the pros and cons of the U.S. joining the ICC.

* Each student should write an editorial from one of the perspectives. Each pair of students should have both positions represented.

* Have the pairs create an editorial page about why the U.S. should and should not join the ICC. The students may want to make the layout look like a newspaper by using various software programs.

5. Share editorials.

Read aloud a few examples of editorials and discuss. You may choose to display the editorial pages on the classroom walls. If students would like, they may send their editorials to your local newspaper.

The International Criminal Court

What is the ICC?

The ICC is a permanent international court. It hears cases of individual people (not countries) who have been accused of serious international crimes. The ICC is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. In the past, many individuals have gone unpunished for atrocities such as genocide and war crimes. The ICC will now be able to punish people committing such crimes, and hopefully deter (prevent) other people from committing such crimes in the future.

What types of cases does the ICC hear? The treaty establishing the ICC allows the court to hear cases concerning the following crimes: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

* Genocide means causing bodily or mental harm or killing members of a group, deliberately inflicting harm to destroy the group, preventing births in the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

* War crimes means torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering, destruction of property, ignoring rights of a fair trial, unlawful deportation and confinement, and taking hostages.

* Crimes against humanity means murder, extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment that goes against international law, torture, rape and sexual violence, and apartheid.

* Crimes of aggression has not yet been incorporated into the treaty. Even though most countries feel the need to incorporate these types of crimes, they cannot agree upon a definition.

The ICC can hear cases on any such crimes committed on or after July 1, 2002. Crimes committed before then cannot be prosecuted in the ICC.

What is the difference between the ICC and other international courts? The International Court of Justice, for example, only hears disputes between governments, not individuals. The international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia do hear cases against individuals, but only regarding crimes in a particular location and during a particular period of time. The ICC, on the other hand, will be able to hear criminal cases against individuals from any place in the world, during any time after July 1, 2002 (when the statute creating the ICC became effective).

How was the ICC created?

In 1998 in Rome, 160 countries attended the UN-sponsored conference to draft a treaty establishing the ICC. One hundred and thirty-nine countries signed the treaty as of Dec. 31, 2000. Approximately ninety countries have now ratified the treaty, meaning that they agree to be subject to the terms of the ICC.

The ICC is backed by the European Union and other major powers in the world. The United States, however, opposes the ICC. In addition, most countries in the Middle East and Asia have not yet ratified the ICC.

Who are the judges?

The International Criminal Court consists of eighteen elected judges nominated by the nations who have ratified the treaty.

Who is the prosecutor?

The chief prosecutor is elected and oversees the management and administration of the office. The prosecutor's role is to conduct investigations and prosecutions of international crimes.

How can a case be brought before the ICC?

A country that has ratified the treaty establishing the ICC can ask for an investigation of a particular individual. The UN Security Council can also request an investigation, or the prosecutor can independently start an investigation based on information from victims, non-governmental organizations, and other reputable sources. The ICC will work with the national authorities to gather information.

After an initial investigation, the prosecutor will decide whether or not to bring a complaint against that particular individual.

American Foreign Policy and the International Criminal Court

Marc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies May 6, 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Here's what America believes in:

* We believe in justice and the promotion of the rule of law.

* We believe those who commit the most serious crimes of concern to the international community should be punished.

* We believe that states, not international institutions, are primarily responsible for ensuring justice in the international system.

* We believe that the best way to combat these serious offenses is to build domestic judicial systems, strengthen political will and promote human freedom.

We have concluded that the International Criminal Court does not advance these principles. Here is why:

* We believe the ICC undermines the role of the United Nations Security Council in maintaining international peace and security.

* We believe in checks and balances. The Rome Statute creates a prosecutorial system that is an unchecked power.

* We believe that in order to be bound by a treaty, a state must be party to that treaty. The ICC asserts jurisdiction over citizens of states that have not ratified the treaty. This threatens U.S. sovereignty.

* We believe that the ICC is built on a flawed foundation. These flaws leave it open for exploitation and politically motivated prosecutions.

... Like many of the nations that gathered in Rome in 1998 for the negotiations to create a permanent International Criminal Court, the United States arrived with the firm belief that those who perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes must be held accountable and that horrendous deeds must not go unpunished.... We believed that a properly created court could be a useful tool in promoting human rights and holding the perpetrators of the worst violations accountable before the world--and perhaps one day such a court will come into being.

A Flawed Outcome

But the International Criminal Court that emerged from the Rome negotiations, and which will begin functioning on July 1 [of 2002] will not effectively advance these worthy goals.

First, we believe the ICC is an institution of unchecked power. In the United States, our system of government is founded on the principle that, in the words of John Adams, "power must never be trusted without a check." Unchecked power, our founders understood, is open to abuse, even with the good intentions of those who establish it....

Second, the treaty approved in Rome dilutes the authority of the UN Security Council and departs from the system that the framers of the UN Charter envisioned. The treaty creates an as-yet-to-be defined crime of "aggression," and again empowers the court to decide on this matter and lets the prosecutor investigate and prosecute this undefined crime....

Third, the treaty threatens the sovereignty of the United States. The Court, as constituted today, claims the authority to detain and try American citizens, even though our democratically-elected representatives have not agreed to be bound by the treaty ...

Fourth, the current structure of the International Criminal Court undermines the democratic rights of our people and could erode the fundamental elements of the United Nations Charter, specifically the right to self defense.

Fifth, we believe that by putting U.S. officials and our men and women in uniform at risk of politicized prosecutions, the ICC will complicate U.S. military cooperation with many friends and allies who will now have a treaty obligation to hand over U.S. nationals to the Court-even over U.S. objections....

Our Philosophy

While we oppose the ICC, we share a common goal with its supporters--the promotion of the rule of law. Our differences are in approach and philosophy. In order for the rule of law to have true meaning, societies must accept their responsibilities and be able to direct their future and come to terms with their past. An unchecked international body should not be able to interfere in this delicate process....

Questions to Consider

1. Why does the U.S. refuse to join the ICC?

2. What is the status of "crimes of aggression"?

3. How do the democratic beliefs held by Americans differ from the beliefs held by the ICC?

4. According to the author, what is the best way to promote peace in the world?

5. Do you agree or disagree with the author? Explain your reasoning.

Rebuttal Points

You have read an official statement by the U.S. Department of State explaining why the U.S. is not supportive of the International Criminal Court. Now consider the following points of rebuttal to the official U.S. position:

* The U.S. has asked other countries to sign bilateral treaties agreeing not to turn over U.S. citizens found on their territory to the ICC. (At the start of 2004, twenty-four countries had signed one of these agreements, some only after the U.S. threatened to reduce military or financial aid.) Thus, U.S. citizens are theoretically protected from the reach of the ICC even if they are physically in one of these foreign countries.

* The ICC investigates only the most serious crimes based on the defined categories of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In each of these cases, the crimes must be widespread or part of a systematic plan.

* The ICC does not replace national courts and, instead, is complementary to them. The state to which the accused individual or group belongs has the right to investigate the accusation. Only if the state is unwilling or unable to investigate may the ICC take the case.

* In countries where U.S. military forces are stationed, agreements are negotiated between the U.S. and the host country. These agreements give the U.S. jurisdiction over any war crimes committed by U.S. personnel during the duration of the operation. The ICC respects these agreements.

* Although the ICC has jurisdiction over "crimes of aggression," it will not pursue any of these crimes until a clear and precise definition has been reached.

* There is a system of checks and balances to ensure cases heard by the ICC are not frivolous. The chief prosecutor is elected by member nations and the eighteen judges are nominated by member nations. Although the chief prosecutor investigates accusations and determines which cases are brought to trial, the case must then pass through a pretrial to determine if it is admissible. Finally, there is a trial open to the public in which guilt or innocence is determined.

Questions to Consider

1. Do you support the bilateral agreements the United States is signing with other countries?

2. How does information in this handout related to Marc Grossman's statements in "American Foreign Policy and the ICC"?

The ICC: Should the U.S. Join?

Preamble for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (excerpts)

The states who are party to this agreement:

... [Are] Mindful that during this century millions of children, women and men have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity,

[Recognize] that such grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world,

[Have Determined] to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes,

[And Recall] that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes....


The U.S. has strongly opposed the creation of the ICC. Working with a partner, you are going to create a newspaper editorial page that outlines the pros and cons of the U.S. joining the International Criminal Court. On this editorial page, one person will write about why the U.S. should join the ICC and the other person will write about why the U.S. should not join the ICC. These editorial pages must be based on expert opinion and not lust on your own opinion.

If you are researching and writing about why the U.S. should join the ICC, then here are some websites to get you started:

* The Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court informative:

* Coalition for the International Criminal Court:

* Human Rights Watch's section devoted to the International Criminal Court:

* USA For the International Criminal Court:

If you are researching and writing about why the U.S. should not join the ICC, then here are some websites to get you started:

* The Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court:

* U.S. Department of State's page on the ICC:

* United States Embassy in Austria's Fact Sheet "United States Policy on the International Criminal Court":

* "U.S. Restates Objections to International Criminal Court" article from October 14, 2002: usandun/02101615.htm

This lesson is from TEACHING INTERNATIONAL LAW, published by the Center for Teaching International Relations (CTIR), 2004. The book contains ten activities to teach students basic information about how the international community and the international legal system work. The lessons were a collaborative effort between Caroline Starbird and Jenny Pettit. Starbird has a J.D. from Columbia Law School and a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University. Pettit has extensive experience teaching social studies in secondary schools. The synergy of subject expertise and teaching experience has resulted in acadmically rigorous, grade-appropriate, and engaging lessons. This book was developed in conjunction with TEACHING INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS AND TRADE.

CTIR is part of the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies. For more than thirty-five years, CTIR has dedicated itself to enhancing public understanding of international affairs. CTIR creates supplementary materials on international affairs for grade levels ranging from elementary to high school.

CTIR lessons fit easily into a classroom curriculum because they are based on core subject matters such as economics, history, civics, geography, science, and language arts. The lessons help students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to participate in and contribute to a global society. For more information on materials available from CTIR, see or call CTIR Publications at (303) 871-7963.
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Publication:Social Education
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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