International Criminal Court Cases in Africa: Status and Policy Issues

Publication Date: July 2010

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Justice

Type: Report

Coverage: Africa


The Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), also known as the Rome Statute, enteredinto force on July 1, 2002, and established a permanent, independent Court to investigate andbring to justice individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Asof March 2010, 111 countries were parties to the Statute. The United States is not a party. TheICC has, to-date, initiated investigations exclusively in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Prosecutor hasopened cases against 16 individuals for alleged crimes in northern Uganda, the DemocraticRepublic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and the Darfur region of Sudan. In addition, the Prosecutor has opened an investigation in Kenya and a preliminary examination in Guinea.

One of the individuals sought by the ICC is Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. TheCourt issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in March 2009. The prosecution, the first attempt by theICC to pursue a sitting head of state, has drawn praise from human rights advocates, while raisingconcerns that ICC actions could endanger peace processes and access by humanitarianorganizations. Unlike the other African countries under ICC investigation, Sudan is not a party tothe ICC; instead, the ICC was granted jurisdiction over Darfur through a United Nations SecurityCouncil resolution in March 2005. Obama Administration officials have expressed support for theprosecution of perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur and have suggested that Bashir should face theaccusations against him.

Four suspects are currently in ICC custody. Three are alleged leaders of militias in theDemocratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the fourth is a former Congolese rebel leader, vicepresident, and senator who is accused of war crimes in neighboring Central African Republic. Inaddition, two alleged Darfur rebel leaders have voluntarily answered summonses to appear beforethe Court. A third alleged Darfur rebel leader voluntarily appeared in May 2009; the case againsthim was dismissed. All other suspects are at large, and the Court has yet to secure a conviction.

Congressional interest in the work of the ICC in Africa has arisen in connection with concernover gross human rights violations on the African continent and beyond, as well as concerns overICC jurisdiction and executive branch policy toward the Court. At the ICC’s recent reviewconference in Kampala, Uganda, Obama Administration officials reiterated the United States’intention to provide diplomatic and informational support to individual ICC prosecutions on acase-by-case basis. Legislation before the 111th Congress references the ICC warrant againstBashir and, more broadly, U.S. government support for ICC prosecutions.

This report provides background on the ICC and its investigations in Africa, with an overview of cases currently before the Court. The report also examines issues raised by the ICC’s actions in Africa, including the potential deterrence of future abuses and the potential impact on African peace processes. Further background can be found in CRS Report RL31437, International Criminal Court: Overview and Selected Legal Issues, by Jennifer K. Elsea, and CRS ReportR41116, The International Criminal Court (ICC): Jurisdiction, Extradition, and U.S. Policy, by Emily C. Barbour and Matthew C. Weed.