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International Crime, Universal Jurisdiction


Ending impunity for perpetrators of serious international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes is considered important because convictions may achieve justice and deter future acts. A controversial tool for ending impunity is the exercise of universal jurisdiction by states. For its supporters, universal jurisdiction denies safe havens for perpetrators of heinous offenses and ensures that their crimes do not go unpunished due to a lack of will or means. In contrast, critics warn that universal jurisdiction threatens international relations, international justice, and the rights of the accused.

The recent resistance of the African Union to attempted prosecutions of nationals of A.U. member states on the basis of universal jurisdiction highlights the controversy surrounding the exercise of universal jurisdiction. Through an analysis of the African Union reaction, this Article examines and assesses the arguments in favor and against universal jurisdiction, and proposes how a proper balance may be struck between enforcement of international criminal law on the basis of universal jurisdiction and respect for state sovereignty.

This Article argues that, under international law, states have the right to exercise universal jurisdiction over certain international crimes. Rather than disregarding international justice, such prosecutions may achieve justice by imposing individual responsibility for serious international crimes. It is undeniable, however, that difficulties may accompany the exercise of universal jurisdiction. Although there may be few legal restrictions on its use, states should adopt a balanced approach that makes universal jurisdiction a useful tool for ending impunity while minimizing the risks associated with its exercise. Ultimately, an international agreement may be required to resolve the outstanding disagreement among states surrounding the doctrine; until then, states should implement universal jurisdiction legislation and exercise it with care.

Publication Abbreviation

Geo Wash Int'l L Rev

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Criminal Law Commons