The ICC is the only permanent international judicial body capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.

It is an independent institution which seeks to bring to justice individuals most responsible for the commission of

Central to the Court’s mandate is the principle of complementarity, which holds that states have primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute grave crimes.

The ICC will only act if states are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators on their own.

ICC investigations

Investigations can occur one of three ways

icc Preliminary examinations

ICC preliminary examinations are intended to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with a full investigation into alleged grave crimes committed by individuals in a given state.

In four phases, the prosecutor assesses whether the situation meets the criteria of jurisdiction and admissibility set out in the Rome Statute.

A key goal of preliminary examinations is to encourage government to investigate and prosecute allegation of grave crimes committed on their territory or by their citizens.

Discover more about the ICC’s preliminary examinations


Palestine, Honduras, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea and Nigeria. 


Venezuela, Palestine, the Republic of Korea and the Comoros referral

No immunity

There is no immunity under the ICC Rome Statute.

Criminal responsibility will be applied equally to all persons without distinction as to whether he or she is a head of state or government, a member of a government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official.

Official capacity cannot constitute a ground for reduction of sentence.

Key facts and figures

An independent Court

The judges

ICC judges must have established experience and competence in criminal and international law, including humanitarian and human rights law. They must have high moral character, impartiality and integrity. Article 40 of the Rome Statute states that judges may not engage in any activity or occupation that may interfere with their judicial functions. A judge may be disqualified or removed for any case in which their impartiality may be in doubt.

The prosecutor

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is responsible for conducting investigations and prosecutions before the Court. The OTP acts independently as a separate organ of the Court. No other entity or governing body has authority over the OTP and its examinations. The prosecutor alone decides whether to start a preliminary examination or to open an official investigation into any crimes committed within the jurisdiction of the Court.

Independence from the United Nations

While the UN played a key role in the establishment of the Court, the ICC is independent of the UN and its relevant bodies. The UN can and does exchange relevant information and provide logistical support to the Court. The 2004 Relationship Agreement between the ICC and the UN established a framework for cooperation between the two bodies and reaffirmed the Court’s independence. 

Under the Rome Statute, the UN Security Council can refer situations to the ICC prosecutor for potential investigation. To date, the situations in Darfur (2005) and Libya (2011) have been referred to the ICC by the UNSC, with the prosecutor independently deciding in each case to open an investigation. The UN Security Council also has the power to defer ICC investigations for one year at a time if it believes it is in the interest international peace and security.