Universal Jurisdiction Trials of Core International Crimes and the Applicable Legal Standards

Recent empirical data shows that states today are increasingly exercising universal jurisdiction (UJ) to prosecute foreign citizens for atrocity crimes against other non-nationals on the territory of other sovereign states. One major cause for this increase has been the ongoing wars in Syria and the wider region, which have led to a migrant ‘crisis’ and the presence in European countries of many witnesses, victims and sometimes perpetrators of such crimes. One of the challenges that these trials raise concern the applicable legal standards in UJ proceedings. What definitions of crimes, forms of liability and defenses ought to apply in such trials: those established in the prosecuting state’s national laws, or those in international criminal law? States’ practice on this point is inconclusive and undertheorized.

This research seeks to determine to what extent the exercise of UJ requires domestic authorities to apply the international legal definitions of crimes, forms of liability and defenses, instead of those established in their own national laws. The use of domestic legal standards in UJ trials is assessed vis-à-vis a range of core legal principles from the fields of international jurisdictional, criminal and human rights (e.g. legality, lex mitior, sovereign equality, non-interference, etc.)


Key publication(s):

  • L. Yanev, Dutch Criminal Justice for Ethiopian War Crimes: The Alemu Case’: 1-21 (advance online access via https://academic.oup.com/jicj/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jicj/mqz023/5531245).