International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Should We Use Universal Jurisdiction?

One of the main arguments against any international involvement in another state is the state’s sovereignty. The possibility of actions being driven by political interests also counts as a forceful argument against a single-state involvement in another state. To counter these arguments and to be able to act in the extreme cases that require another state or actor’s involvement, international organizations have set up another organization to deal with such cases or have authorized multilateral actions.

During our discussion of universal jurisdiction, I saw some parallels between universal jurisdiction and humanitarian intervention. They both involve violation of state sovereignty and the risk of political interests involvement, and there are existent multilateral alternatives. There is a general criticism against unilateral intervention based on the arguments I mentioned above, while multilateral intervention – e.g. through United Nations-authorized force – is viewed as more legitimate. The argument against universal jurisdiction runs similarly with the argument against unilateral intervention. Whether the magistrate state believes that the state of the accused has the capability to hold the person accountable or not, “the consolidation of law, domestic peace, and representative government in a nation struggling to come to terms with a brutal past has a claim” to the process of accountability (Kissinger, 91). Universal jurisdiction can also be the legal principle “used as weapons to settle political scores” (Kissinger, 88). Lastly, international tribunals and the International Criminal Court have been set up to create a more “internationally agreed procedure” to punish those responsible for atrocities (Kissinger, 95). Therefore, as there is a good argument against unilateral humanitarian intervention, I think there is a good argument against exercise of universal jurisdiction, at least based on these simple parallels.

However, there is a good argument for unilateral intervention in certain cases, and maybe there are cases that require the exercise of universal jurisdiction by a third-party state as the lesser of two evils. Amnesty International, in its website, states that through universal jurisdiction “the governments will ensure that their countries cannot be used as safe havens by the worst criminals.” Is there any instance where unilateral approach – universal jurisdiction – is preferable to the multilateral approach? Are there cases where we cannot hold individuals responsible for their atrocities without universal jurisdiction?

Works Cited


Kissinger, Henry A. “The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction.” Foreign Affairs 80.4 (2001): 86-96. Print.

Web sites, e-sources

Amnesty International. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <;.


One response to “Should We Use Universal Jurisdiction?

  1. Brian Wilkinson October 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Can we really call universal jurisdiction a violation of state sovereignty? I think it’s necessary for universal justice to exist if criminals are to go unpunished. Without an internationally agreed upon right to extradite in order to hold individuals accountable, individuals would remain at-large and free from being held accountable for their crimes. Calling for another sovereign state to extradite an individual isn’t an invasion of sovereignty or an attempt to pass judgment on the legal apparatus of that state. Rather, it’s an attempt to return the individual to the country where the crimes were committed or where criminal trials are being held, in an effort to promote both truth telling and reconciliation. The international community is neither forcing persecution nor forcibly invading the country to retrieve the indicted, but rather prevailing on existing international agreements to achieve justice.

    It seems as though there is a sense of confusion regarding the role of international tribunals and the ICC compared to the right of the country to carry out justice on its own. The state of the accused does have a right to the process of justice, but if that justice would destabilize the country, or if the state lacks the ability to punish, I fail to see the problem with deferring to a third party. As the ICC comes more to the forefront of international consciousness and continues successful prosecutions, I imagine this third party justice will become the norm, rather than the exception.

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