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An International Anti-Corruption Court? A synopsis of the debate

Impunity and the transnational nature of corruption have led to calls for an international anti-corruption court that could hold kleptocrats accountable and spur governments to improve national justice systems. But there are concerns that such a court is not politically feasible, that pressuring countries to join it would do more harm than good, and that the court would not be sufficiently effective in combating grand corruption to justify its costs.

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15 December 2019
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An International Anti-Corruption Court? A synopsis of the debate


International Anti-Corruption Court: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

A panel discussion on the international anti-corruption court. Hosted by Anti-Corruption Law Program.

Main points

  • In many countries, corrupt elites have de facto impunity from prosecution because the justice systems in those countries are unwilling or unable to hold powerful senior figures and their associates criminally accountable. One proposed remedy is the creation of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC), similar to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • An IACC might help address grand corruption by strengthening deterrence, by motivating countries to improve their domestic justice systems (so as to avoid falling under the IACC’s jurisdiction), and by communicating international disapproval of grand corruption.
  • However, there are obstacles to the IACC project. Leaders who enjoy de facto impunity for grand corruption in domestic courts may be unwilling to submit their countries to the jurisdiction of an IACC, and methods to compel countries to join such a court may be ineffective or counterproductive. An IACC might not be able to effectively prosecute grand corruption due to the prosecutors’ limited toolkit and the likely non-cooperation of the countries whose leaders are under investigation.
  • There are also questions about cost-effectiveness. Operation of the court might cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year, money that could be used to strengthen other efforts to reduce grand corruption and impunity.
  • Whatever one thinks of the specific proposal, the international community should continue to pursue efforts to address the impunity problem. A number of approaches are already underway, and others have been proposed. Some combination of these measures might provide either an effective alternative or a complement to the IACC project.

Cite this publication

Stephenson, M.; Schütte, S.; (2019) An International Anti-Corruption Court? A synopsis of the debate. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2019:5)

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About the authors

Matthew C. Stephenson

Matthew C. Stephenson is Eli Goldston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is an expert in anti-corruption law, legislation, administrative law, and the application of political economy to public institutional design. He has served as a consultant, advisor, and lecturer on topics related to anti-corruption, judicial reform, and administrative procedure for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and national governments and academic institutions in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Global Anticorruption Blog (, with more than 10,000 followers.

Dr. Sofie Arjon Schütte leads U4’s thematic work on the justice sector, including specialised institutions like anti-corruption agencies and courts. Previously, she worked for the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia and the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission and has conducted workshops and short-term assignments on corruption in more than 15 countries. She is editor of the series of U4 publications on anti-corruption courts around the world.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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