The main responsibility for prosecuting the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes lies with States. These obligations of States to investigate and prosecute core international crimes have developed over the last two centuries, starting with, inter alia, the Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, the Charters of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Military Tribunals, the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols. The following sources of international law permit, and at times obligate, national authorities to seek out, investigate and prosecute or extradite those responsible for the commission of core international crimes, regardless of where they are committed and irrespective of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim:
- The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 (Articles 1, 5 and 6)
- Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 (GC I, Article 49; GC II, Article 50; GC III, Article 129; GC IV, Article 146) and the three Additional Protocols (AP I, Article 85)
- The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 (Article 28) and its Second Additional Protocol (Article 17(1))
- The International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of Apartheid of 1976 (Article 4)
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984 (Article 5(2) and Article 7(1))
- The Rome Statute of the ICC of 1998 (Recitals 4, 6 and 10 of the Preamble, Article 1)
- The International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances of 2006 (Articles 3, 4, 6 and 9(2))
- Customary international law
Many of these obligations stemming from international treaties and customary law were solidified in the Rome Statute of the ICC, through which State Parties reiterated the obligation to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of core international crimes. The ICC’s jurisdiction is, however, restricted to crimes committed by a national of a State Party, in the territory of a State Party, situations specifically referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council, or if the State has specifically accepted the exercise of jurisdiction by the ICC. In addition, temporal limitations apply as the ICC’s jurisdiction is restricted to crimes that were committed after 1 July 2002. Moreover, the principle of complementarity means that the ICC only assumes jurisdiction in cases where States are unable or unwilling to do so. Accordingly, the ICC has or will assume jurisdiction in a very limited number of cases, and States have the duty, first and foremost, to seek, investigate and prosecute those responsible for the commission of core international crimes.
Despite the general perception that core international crimes occur far away, experience has shown that these crimes, perpetrators and their assets, victims and witnesses, have real links with Member States of the European Union. The successful outcome of investigations and prosecutions is dependent on close cooperation between the authorities involved and between States. Member States of the European Union have had a central role throughout the development of international criminal law, hosting many international tribunals and offering full cooperation and support. Part of this support in the fight against impunity involves supporting national authorities in the prosecution and investigation of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The European Network of Contact Points for investigation and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (the Genocide Network) is a body established by the Council of the European Union (Council Decisions 2002/494/JHA and 2003/335/JHA ) to ensure close cooperation between the national authorities in investigating and prosecuting the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as defined in Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC.
Since 2011, the work of the Genocide Network has been facilitated by the Genocide Network Secretariat, hosted by Eurojust in The Hague.