- Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Bartram S. Brown
15 Universal jurisdiction Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Menaka Fernando Universal jurisdiction is a jurisdictional principle of international criminal law that allows a state to prosecute certain crimes based on the nature of the crime, regardless of where the crimes occurred or whether the prosecuting state has any territorial or nationality-based connection to them. Crimes for which universal jurisdiction may apply include war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and enforced disappearances.1 The doctrine of universality was traditionally associated with the crime of piracy, but gained wider application in the post-Second World War era with the prosecution of Nazi-era crimes. For example, Israel utilized the concept of universal jurisdiction in prosecuting Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 when the Israeli Attorney-General charged Eichmann with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was abducted from Argentina and brought to stand trial in Israel, a state that did not exist at the time the crimes were committed. He was convicted and executed.2 Universal jurisdiction was not used extensively again until the 1990s, when – for the first time – the doctrine was utilized for crimes outside the post-Second World War context. In 1993, Belgium passed its expansive Act Concerning Grave Breaches of International Humanitarian Law in order to implement its obligations under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The first prosecutions and convictions under the new law were four Rwandan defendants present in Belgium, who were prosecuted for war crimes against Tutsi and internally displaced persons during Rwanda’s genocide in 1994.3 A number of cases in Germany concerning...
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