The UN Security Council


The UN Security Council has the power to refer situations that represent a threat to international peace and security to the ICC prosecutor for investigation and possibly prosecution, irrespective of if they are members of the Court.

The Council also has the power to defer ICC investigations for one year at a time if it believes it is in the interest of international peace and security. To date, the Security Council has referred Darfur (Sudan) in 2005 and Libya in 2011 to the Court.

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Failure to back up referrals

The UN Security Council has consistently failed to provide the requisite cooperation or financial support to ensure effective ICC investigations and prosecutions arising from its referrals.

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Provisions that undermine impartial justice

Certain provisions in UN Security Council referrals have undermined the ICC’s ability to serve impartial justice, such the explicit exclusion of nationals of non ICC-member states from the Court’s jurisdiction. 

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Misuse of the veto – uneven access to justice

The ICC cannot investigate when the UN Security Council fails to refer suspected atrocity crimes situations to the ICC prosecutor for investigation. This is an increasingly pressing issue given well-documented mass human rights violations in many places around the world where the ICC does not have jurisdiction.

The five permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—can each veto any resolution that comes before them. A power often used to protect their interests, along with those of their allies

In May 2014, despite the support of over 60 UN member states and hundreds of civil society groups, Russia and China vetoed a resolution to refer widespread atrocities in Syria to the ICC—the first time a referral resolution had failed.

This political selectivity towards accountability on the part of Security Council members results in uneven access to justice for victims of grave crimes worldwide, and undermines the credibility of both the Council and ICC.

Two separate initiatives aim to restrain the use of the veto when dealing with situations of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.

(Note: The Coalition as a whole does not take positions on the referral of specific situations to the Court.)

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5 recommendations for the Permanent 5

Refrain from using the veto when dealing with mass atrocities

  • Back up ICC referrals with cooperation, such as arresting suspects
  • Encourage funding of ICC referrals through the UN system
  • Stop excluding nationals of non ICC-member states from the Court’s jurisdiction in referrals
  • Engage in constructive dialogue with the Court
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