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31 Hum. Rts. 22 (2004)


Universal criminal jurisdiction is an important tool in the worldwide struggle to end impunity for serious international crimes.

Universal criminal jurisdiction is the principle of international law that permits any nation to prosecute certain serious international crimes, regardless of where they are committed, by whom or against whom, or any other unique tie to the prosecuting nation. The Recommendation applies whether or not an accused is in custody and does not address the separate topics of universal jurisdiction in civil cases or the immunities of senior government officials before foreign national courts.

Universal criminal jurisdiction developed over time as a response to international recognition of serious crimes whose perpetrators were otherwise likely to escape prosecution. The first such crime was piracy, which all nations were authorized to prosecute because of the nature of the crimes and the ease with which pirates might evade jurisdiction. Much the same dual rationale—heinous crimes otherwise left in impunity—has fueled the modern extension of universal jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide, torture, and acts of international terrorism.

Other bases of jurisdiction frequently are inadequate to ensure that persons who perpetrate grave international crimes are brought to justice. The two main alternatives to universal jurisdiction are prosecutions of criminals by their national courts and prosecutions before international criminal courts. Neither to date has proved sufficient to bring the world's worst criminals to justice.



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