The ‘Gänseliesel’ (Goose Girlis), a historical fountain erected in 1901, represents the most well-known landmark of the city of Goettingen.

Complementarity After Kampala: Capacity Building and the ICC’s Legal Tools

Morten Bergsmo, Olympia Bekou & Annika Jones



Twelve years after the creation of the first permanent International Criminal Court and eight years since the entry into force of its Statute, the first ever Review Conference took place in Kampala, Uganda. Besides successfully introducing aggression as one of the crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction and expanding the coverage for war crimes, the Review Conference provided a timely opportunity to reflect on some of the key aspects of the Court’s regime. An integral part of the Review Conference was the “stocktaking exercise”. The exercise provided a platform for the participants at the Review Conference to reflect on the successes and the failings of the ICC following the first few years of its operation and to consider measures that could be taken to enhance and strengthen the Court’s functions in the years to come. The stocktaking exercise focused on four themes: complementarity, cooperation, victims and affected communities and peace and justice. These themes represent major aspects of the ICC’s operation which will continue to warrant consideration as the Court matures as an institution. The theme of complementarity is of particular importance because of its uniqueness to the ICC. The ICC’s complementarity regime places a primary obligation on States to investigate and prosecute international crimes. It does so by limiting the jurisdiction of the ICC to situations where States are shown to be unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate and prosecute, in respect of cases of sufficient gravity to justify action by the Court. The principle of complementarity was an innovation, specifically tailored for the ICC. The Review Conference therefore provided an important opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the principle and steps that could be taken to strengthen it. This piece will consider the tenor of the debate concerning complementarity during the Review Conference and the emphasis that was placed on strengthening national capacity for the investigation and prosecution of core international crimes. In particular, it will highlight a significant shift in the use of the term “positive complementarity”. The term, which had originally been used to refer to the ICC’s role in the construction of national capacity, was used throughout the Review Conference to refer to the involvement of States, international organisations and civil society in strengthening justice at the national level. It will also draw attention to the efforts that were made during the Conference to identify means to put positive complementarity into practice with the hope of overcoming some of the problems that States had faced in the investigation and prosecution of serious international crimes within their national systems. The article will go on to discuss the relevance of the ICC Legal Tools Project, a unique collection of legal databases, digests and applications designed to facilitate the application of international criminal law, to the discussions that took place in Kampala. It will be concluded that the ICC’s Legal Tools provide an important means of supporting the principle of complementarity, positive or otherwise.


Download the full text as a PDF