Skip to main content

How the International Criminal Court Threatens Treaty Norms

Posted by on Thursday, August 25, 2016 in Articles, Blog, Left column, Vol. 49 No. 2, Volume 49.

This Article demonstrates the disadvantages of permitting a supranational institution like the International Criminal Court (ICC) to aggrandize its authority by overriding agreements between sovereign states. The Court’s constitutive power derives from a multilateral treaty designed to augment sovereign enforcement efforts rather than annul them. Treaty negotiators expressly rejected efforts to confer jurisdiction to the ICC based on its aspiration to advance universal values or a self-justifying teleological impulse to bring perpetrators to justice. Rather, its jurisdiction derives solely from the delegation by States Parties of their own sovereign prerogatives. In accordance with the ancient maxim nemo plus iuris transferre potest quam ipse habet, states cannot transfer jurisdictional authority to the supranational court that they themselves do not possess at the time of the alleged offenses. Upon ratification of the Rome Statute, both Afghanistan and Palestine conveyed jurisdiction to the Court, but the scope of that delegation is limited by their preexisting treaty-based constraints. American forces and Israelis remain subject to the exclusive criminal jurisdiction of their own states for criminal offenses committed on the territory covered by those binding bilateral agreements so long as those treaties remain applicable. Hence, the Rome Statute by its own terms does not automatically extend territorial jurisdiction over American forces in Afghanistan or over Israeli citizens suspected of offenses in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. Yet, the Office of the Prosecutor uncritically accepts the premise that ratification of the multilateral treaty conveyed indivisible territorial jurisdiction. The ICC is not empowered to sweep aside binding bilateral agreements between sovereign states. By asserting that it has power to abrogate underlying bilateral treaties, the Court undermines ancient precepts of international law and harms the principles of treaty law. The ICC is not constructed as an omnipotent super-court with self-proclaimed universal jurisdiction based upon the presumption that the Rome Statute operates in isolation from other treaty-based constraints on sovereign prerogatives. This Article examines the conflicts between current Court assumptions and the tenets of the Rome Statute. Its final Parts dissect the foreseeable damage caused by the present policy. The conclusion asserts that the Court cannot unilaterally override the validity of existing jurisdictional treaties. The assertion of such powers would violate the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and muddy the existing debates related to resolving conflicts between equally binding treaty norms.


Leave a Response

ExpressO Top 10 Law Review


The Journal is pleased to announce its 2018-2019 Board of Editors. Complete-Masthead-2018-2019

Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Michael A. Newton’s 2016 VJTL Article entitled How the International Criminal Court Threatens Treaty Norms  was cited by the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s November 2017 filing seeking investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

May 2018 Issue on the Second Israel Defense Forces International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict. Read more about the Journal’s May 2018 issue here.

Thank you to everyone who attended the Journal’s 50th Anniversary celebration on October 5, 2017! View photos from the event here and read about the Journal’s history here.

Connect with the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law on LinkedIn.

The Journal is pleased to listed as the #5 International Law Journal by the 2017 Washington and Lee Law Journal Rankings.

The Journal is very excited about the success of our February 2017 Symposium, “Sovereign Conduct on the Margins of the Law.” Read more about our February 2017 Symposium here

Please join us in congratulating the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 2017-2018 Write-On Competition Winners.

Video is available from the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law’s 2015-2016 SymposiumThis is Not a Drill: Confronting Legal Issues in the Wake of International Disasters. Watch here.