Universal jurisdiction or universality principle is a principle in public international law (as opposed to private international law) whereby states claim criminal jurisdiction over persons whose alleged crimes were committed outside the boundaries of the prosecuting state, regardless of nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting country. The state backs its claim on the grounds that the crime committed is considered a crime against all, which any state is authorized to punish, as it is too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage.
The concept of universal jurisdiction is therefore closely linked to the idea that certain international norms are erga omnes, or owed to the entire world community, as well as the concept of jus cogens – that certain international law obligations are binding on all states and cannot be modified by treaty.
According to critics, the principle justifies a unilateral act of wanton disregard of the sovereignty of a nation or the freedom of an individual concomitant to the pursuit of a vendetta or other ulterior motives, with the obvious assumption that the person or state thus disenfranchised is not in a position to bring retaliation to the state applying this principle.
The concept received a great deal of prominence with Belgium's 1993 "law of universal jurisdiction", which was amended in 2003 in order to reduce its scope following a case before the International Court of Justice regarding an arrest warrant issued under the law, entitled Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium). The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 reduced the perceived need to create universal jurisdiction laws, although the ICC is not entitled to judge crimes committed before 2002.
According to Amnesty International, a proponent of universal jurisdiction, certain crimes pose so serious a threat to the international community as a whole, that states have a logical and moral duty to prosecute an individual responsible for it; no place should be a safe haven for those who have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial executions, war crimes, torture and forced disappearances.
Opponents, such as Henry Kissinger, argue that universal jurisdiction is a breach on each state's sovereignty: all states being equal in sovereignty, as affirmed by the United Nations Charter, "Widespread agreement that human rights violations and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted has hindered active consideration of the proper role of international courts. Universal jurisdiction risks creating universal tyranny — that of judges." According to Kissinger, as a practical matter, since any number of states could set up such universal jurisdiction tribunals, the process could quickly degenerate into politically-driven show trials to attempt to place a quasi-judicial stamp on a state's enemies or opponents.
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