ICC’s ‘complementarity’ explained in new handbook



Paul Seils

The International Center for Transitional Justice in New York has published a new handbook for non-specialists, journalists and activists, that walks them through the intricacies of “complementarity,” a fundamental principle of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It lays out the interconnected relationship between the ICC and national court systems in the fight against impunity.

Complementarity is at the heart of all recent debates about who should investigate and prosecute some of the most world’s most egregious crimes — the national authorities or the ICC. The issue has taken centre stage in the ICC’s cases against Simone Ggagbo, former First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire, and Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, both of whom are wanted by the ICC.

The new 100-page book, the Handbook on Complementarity: An Introduction to the Role of National Courts and the ICC in Prosecuting International Crimesdescribes the current laws and practices related to complementarity and how they have been applied so far.

“Complementarity is one of the most important concepts, if not THE most important concept, in the Rome Statute of the ICC,” Paul Seils, author of the handbook and vice president of ICTJ said.

Mr Seils worked in the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor for four years analyzing national proceedings in countries where the ICC was active or could become active.

“At the heart of that system is the idea that, first and foremost, the courts at the national level should deal with cases of serious crimes. The ICC only deals with cases under very limited circumstances.”

Looking at those limited circumstances and unpacking exactly how the ICC and national governments have interpreted the rules on complementarity in the last 14 years, since the Rome Statute came into force, is the handbook’s main focus.

The handbook includes special sections on what can be done by civil society, national prosecutors, and international donors to support national investigations and prosecutions, recognizing the primary role of national courts in the fight against impunity.

The writing and publication of the handbook was funded by the European Union.