Set up to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, it has found itself facing the fallout from the global economic downturn.
“Never before has there been such intense wrangling over the court’s budget,” Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Programme told AFP.
This year, the ICC received 111 million euros ($138 million) from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the umbrella body representing the 121 countries that have ratified the court’s founding treaty and oversees the ICC.
For the first time in its history, it was less than the amount recommended by the ASP’s own committee for budget and finance — and 11 million euros short of the court’s own wish list of 122 million euros.
The shortfall is a source of great concern for the court which in a decade has seen only one case — that of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga — through to conviction.
Between 2005 and last year, the court forked out more than 41 million euros for its first two trials of Lubanga and Congolese militiamen Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, the ASP said in its latest report.
Currently, the court is investigating cases in seven countries — all of them in Africa, while 20 arrest warrants, most notably that of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have been issued.
Other expenses included paying around 700 employees as well as an estimated six million euros in rent for the next three years.
Some of the court’s largest funders — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan have called for “zero nominal growth” in the ICC’s budget next year.
Together with Canada and Spain, these countries contribute two-thirds of the court’s budget.
Diplomats told AFP many countries, including some of the largest donors, were feeling the pinch from the global economic crisis, while at the same time believing the court itself could run a more cost-efficient operation.
“We will continue to give the court our strong support,” a diplomat at the British Embassy in The Hague told AFP, “but there is a hard reality here, there are less public finances. We have to justify (expenses) to our taxpayers”.
Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham in a speech last week in London said the court had to “become more efficient. Prudent budget management with a sharp eye for efficiency is crucial to this.”
“Some states are literally on the brink of bankruptcy,” said another diplomat who asked not to be named, representing another large donor country.
“When Japan is asked to give one more penny to the ICC it thinks: ‘one penny less for (the) Fukushima (quake disaster); France thinks ‘we can hire a teacher for less’.”
But budget cuts and freezes “have a dramatic impact on the court’s availability to do its work,” William Pace, head of the Coalition for the International Court (CICC) — an umbrella body representing 2,500 civil society groups, told AFP.
It all means less money to pay defence lawyers and hire translators as well as protect witnesses in sensitive cases while investigators have to do more with less, said Pace.
“The current effort by a few states to slash the court’s budget is profoundly troubling because it’s happening as the demand for global justice is on the increase,” added HRW’s Dicker, quoting recent posters in Syria calling for President Bashar al-Assad to be “taken to The Hague” as one example.
“Imposing zero-financial growth on a court whose activities are increasing is deeply unwise and damaging to the perception and ability of it to meet its obligations,” including to victims, the CICC itself warned in April.
The ICC’s new chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently told journalists “we are trying to maximise and shift around the resources we have”.