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FIBGAR / Articles  / Universal Jurisdiction in Today’s World

Universal Jurisdiction in Today’s World

This week has been published the latest Annual Review of Universal Jurisdiction 2023, conducted by Trial International, where international cases occurred in the last year are collected and reviewed under three principles of extraterritorial jurisdiction: the principle of universal jurisdiction and the principles of active personality and passive personality.

It should be noted that this report does not include complaints by victims, lawyers and NGOs filed under universal jurisdiction through national authorities that have not led to the opening of any judicial investigation or that have been dismissed by national courts. The Report focuses on those cases in which, throughout 2022, it has been possible to open a criminal investigation for crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, enforced disappearances and torture, or those cases in which there have been new developments in the judicial process.

Thus, the report highlights the unprecedented mobilization of legal and judicial resources to respond to international crimes committed in the framework of the Ukrainian war. Some European countries, along with Canada, have opened domestic investigations into the crimes that occurred in Ukraine under the umbrella of universal jurisdiction.

These investigations are not primarily aimed at singling out specific individuals or incidents. However, they have been opened to gather information and evidence of the crimes committed during the conflict, which will allow investigators to build judicial cases for the benefit of future criminal prosecutions.

In addition, another of the 2022 achievements highlighted in the report is the increase in the number of judicial initiatives that have been launched with the aim of hold accountable to various economic actors Europeans who have participated in one way or another in the commission of international crimes. It should be pointed out that these economic actors, such as banks and oil, mineral and security companies, have not committed international crimes per se, but have favored their commission by supporting armed groups and authoritarian regimes to ensure their economic activity in various countries.

Some of the specific cases covered by universal jurisdiction that are highlighted in the report are, among others, the detention in Germany of a former member of a Gambian paramilitary unit being charged with committing war crimes between December 2003 and December 2006; the upcoming commencement of an investigation into the legal proceedings in Sweden against Swedish and Swiss businessmen for their complicity in war crimes in Sudan between 1997 and 2003; or the ongoing research in France INTERPOL president from 2021 for alleged complicity in acts of torture.

All these cases are part of a list of around 56 investigations that Trial International has focused on during 2022. It is thanks to the principle of universal jurisdiction that the opening of judicial proceedings is possible, since this principle, which is enshrined in the national laws of the different countries, allows the authorities to prosecute those suspected of committing international crimes with site independence where the criminal acts occurred. This principle is therefore a very useful tool in the fight against impunity and in the defense of human rights, since the lack of prosecution and investigation of international crimes means the vulnerability and helplessness of the victims who should obtain truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for the events that took place.

In line with its objective of fighting against impunity and promoting democratic development, FIBGAR has made available to civil society a totally free course about universal jurisdiction and cases specific events throughout history in which this principle has favored the protection and guarantee of human rights.

Nadia Gayoso de la Calle