In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The International Criminal Court

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Online Resources

International Relations The International Criminal Court
Steven C. Roach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0117


The International Criminal Court (ICC) became fully operational on 1 July 2002. The origins of the ICC can be traced to the interwar years, more specifically, to the attempts by League of Nations officials to establish a special tribunal to prosecute the German Kaiser as well as hold trials for the perpetrators of atrocities committed by former Ottoman/Turkish officials. Neither of these early attempts materialized into an operational international criminal court. However, the success of the Nuremberg Trials (1945–1946) did convince the UN General Assembly to draw up proposals for a new international criminal court. Although the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union stopped the early momentum toward the establishment of a permanent international court, the International Law Commission would finally complete its final draft statute in 1994. One hundred sixty-eight state delegations attended the Rome Conference to establish a permanent international criminal court in the summer of 1998. Of the 168 states, 120 voted in favor of establishing the court. Given the ICC’s novelty as a permanent international criminal court established under international treaty law, many legal issues regarding its jurisdictional authority and independence arose. These included the exercise of discretionary authority under the complementarity principle, the role of the UN Security Council, and the codification of a comprehensive definition and specific elements of the crime of aggression. Many of these issues underscored the complex political structure of the ICC, in particular its dependence on state cooperation. Since the ICC became fully operational, legal scholars, political scientists, and philosophers have addressed the questions of how the United States and other major powers impose political constraints on the ICC and whether the political repercussions of indictments and ICC intervention have negatively impacted the peace processes between warring factions.

General Overviews

There is a growing body of literature that introduces students and scholars to the history, operations, and politics of the ICC. Many are written or edited by legal scholars, and some have entered into new editions or have been updated to take stock of the new developments. However, since the end of the 20th century, a growing number of international relations (IR) scholars have produced introductory texts and monographs on the ICC. Lee 1999 is one of the first edited texts on the ICC; it offers in-depth and authoritative analyses of each of the many issues involving the court’s implementation and development. Schabas 2011 is the most popular and widely used comprehensive text/introduction of the ICC. Bassiouni 1998, by one of the architects of the Rome Statute, provides a broad examination of the statute’s design. By comparison, Sadat 2002 analyzes the history and the novel legal aspects of the ICC, arguing that the ICC represents a major transformation of international criminal law. In the first years of the 21st century, IR scholars and political scientists have either written texts from an IR perspective or have been invited to contribute to edited volumes addressing the political, legal, and ethical implications of the ICC’s activities. Schiff 2008 offers a comprehensive and highly accessible account of the court, grounding his analysis/narrative in three dominant IR theoretical perspectives. McGoldrick, et al. 2004 assembles leading political scientists and legal scholars to assess the policy implications and central political challenges facing the ICC, while Harrington, et al. 2006 sheds light on such important political questions as the implications of indictments and the political constraints imposed by the major powers. Roach 2009 assesses these and other challenges through an integrative theoretical framework consisting of rationalism, constructivism, and cosmopolitanism.

  • Bassiouni, M. Cherif, ed. The Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Documentary History. New York: Transnational, 1998.

    One of the architects of the Rome Statute, Bassiouni offers an authoritative and detailed assessment of the Rome Statute.

  • Harrington, Joanna, Michael Milde, and Richard Vernon, eds. Bringing Power to Justice? The Prospects of the International Criminal Court. Montreal: McGill University Press, 2006.

    A compilation of essays by legal scholars, political scientists, and philosophers. The essays assess a range of questions and themes such as the political implications of indictments, the political constraints posed by the major powers’ opposition to the ICC, and the role of transitional justice mechanisms.

  • Lee, Roy. The International Criminal Court: The Making of the Rome Statute: Issues, Negotiations, Results. The Hague and Boston: Kluwer Law International, 1999.

    One of the first comprehensive, edited volumes to address the challenges of implementing the provisions of the Rome Statute. This seminal book consists of several short essays written by leading legal scholars, which address the legal meaning and implications of a wide array of topics, ranging from gender issues to the crime of aggression.

  • McGoldrick, Dominic, Peter J. Rowe, and Eric Donnelly, eds. The Permanent International Criminal Court: Legal and Policy Issues. Portland, OR: Hart, 2004.

    A wide-ranging and important edited volume that brings together leading legal scholars and political scientists to address important legal and policy challenges facing the ICC.

  • Roach, Steven C., ed. Governance, Order, and the International Criminal Court: Between Realpolitik and a Cosmopolitan Court. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199546732.001.0001

    Analyzes the political structure and security/political challenges facing the ICC through an integrative theoretical framework consisting of three IR perspectives: rationalism, constructivism, and cosmopolitanism.

  • Sadat, Leila N. The International Criminal Court and the Transformation of International Law: Justice for the New Millennium. New York: Transnational, 2002.

    A very useful source for investigating the history of the ICC and the jurisdictional issues surrounding its operations. Sadat argues how the ICC represents a new, transformative quasi-constitution of international law.

  • Schabas, William A. An Introduction to the International Criminal Court. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511975035

    An updated fourth edition of the leading albeit somewhat dry introductory text of the ICC. It offers students, scholars, and practitioners a comprehensive account of the legal aspects, issues, and politics of the ICC, as well as an appendix containing the entirety of the Rome Statute.

  • Schiff, Benjamin N. Building the International Criminal Court. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790607

    An outstanding, comprehensive account of the emergence, formation, and operation(s) of the ICC. It draws on three IR perspectives, realism, liberalism, and constructivism, to discuss the political importance/meaning and implications of the current situations of the ICC.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.