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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70: How genocide became a crime subject to universal jurisdiction

Published on May 16, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the second post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Read the first post here.

The 9th of December 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. Article 6 of the Convention expressly grants adjudicatory jurisdiction to the territorial State (the State where the crime occurred) and to an international penal tribunal with the acceptance of the Contracting Parties. However, the textual content of the Article has not prevented the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the crime, including universal criminal jurisdiction. Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70, this post briefly analyses the development of universal jurisdiction over the crime of genocide. It explains how Article 6 has led to the application of the universality principle to the crime, and considers what can be learned from this phenomenon in the context of the legacy of the Genocide Convention.

The origins of the application of universal jurisdiction to genocide began decades before the drafting of the Genocide Convention in 1947. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court Legitimising Restrictions on Universal Criminal Jurisdiction

Published on February 6, 2019        Author: 
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A short history of universal jurisdiction in Spain

Last 20 December, the Spanish Constitutional Court (hereinafter, TC) issued a ruling rejecting an application made by more than fifty Socialist Members of Parliament to strike out a bill introduced by the Conservative Party in 2014. In practice, the aforementioned bill put an end to a law of 1985 which provided for one of the broadest universal jurisdiction regimes for criminal matters in the world. Spain had been at the centre of human rights litigation, with well-publicized cases against former presidents Pinochet and Jiang Zemin or top officials of the Israeli Government. Needless to say, such cases had caused a few diplomatic headaches to the Spanish Government, in the course of time. However, a former minister of justice had admitted that in twenty years there had actually been only one conviction in application of universal jurisdiction rules.

A first reform to restrict the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Spanish criminal courts came about in 2009 by an agreement between Socialists and Conservatives. Contrary to the original law of 1985, after 2009 the accused had to be found in Spain, the victim had to be Spanish or there had to be some other relevant connection with the forum. Subsequently, the abovementioned reform of 2014 granted jurisdiction for a larger number of crimes committed abroad but made it practically impossible to prosecute if the crime was completely unrelated to Spain. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Road Less Traveled: How Corporate Directors Could be Held Individually Liable in Sweden for Corporate Atrocity Crimes Abroad

Published on November 13, 2018        Author:  and
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On 18 October 2018, the Swedish Government authorized the Swedish Prosecution Authority to proceed to prosecution in a case regarding activities of two corporate directors within Swedish oil company Lundin Oil, and later within Lundin Petroleum, in Sudan (now South Sudan) between 1998 and 2003. The company’s chief executive and chairman could be charged with aiding and abetting gross crimes against international law in accordance with Chapter 22, Section 6 of the Swedish Penal Code. Charges of such kind carry a sentence of up to ten years or life imprisonment. The case has the potential of furthering accountability of corporate actors for their involvement in international crimes abroad.

Lundin’s alleged involvement in international crimes in South Sudan

Sudan was ravaged by a non-international armed conflict which lasted from 1983 until 2005, between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – as well as a variety of other armed groups. Meanwhile, beginning with the signing of contracts in 1997, Lundin formed a consortium which carried out oil exploration and production in an oil concession area located south of Bentiu on the West Bank of the White Nile in Western Upper Nile/Unity State called Block 5A in the southern part of the country. According to a report by the European Commission on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), the oil exploration brought exacerbated conditions while setting off a battle for control of the disputed region, leading to thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of local populations – with the Nuer people being the most affected. Additionally, reported crimes against civilians by the Sudanese army as well as associated militias of both parties, include indiscriminate attacks, unlawful killing, rape, enslavement, torture, pillage and the recruitment of child soldiers. The consortium’s interaction with local counterparts has come under criminal investigation after the ECOS report was submitted to Swedish prosecutors in 2010. The long time span of the investigation is at least in part due to on-going conflict in the region in 2013, when the International Office of the Prosecutor had scheduled its visit to South Sudan. Furthermore, the case came with some political connotations since Carl Bildt, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, had served as a member of the Board of Directors of Lundin from 2000 to 2006.

In the United States, a case comprised of a similar set of facts was brought by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan against the Republic of Sudan and Talisman Energy Inc., a Canadian oil company, which commenced its activities in the area one year after Lundin. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in a judgment of 2 October 2009 that the claimants had failed to establish that Talisman “acted with the purpose to support the Government’s offences”. Under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) the plaintiffs needed to show that “Talisman acted with the – purpose – (one could argue that such mens rea standard had been set unreasonably high) to advance the Government’s human rights abuses”. On 15 April 2010, the plaintiffs petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, supported by an amicus curiae submitted by Earth Rights International on 20 May 2010, asking to revert the decision of the Second Circuit. On October 2010 the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari and respectively to hear the appeal in this case. In contrast to the rather broad universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction provided for in the Swedish Penal Code, the Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co. remarkably restricted the application of the ACTA in cases involving allegations of abuse – outside – the United States by finding that presumptively it does not apply extraterritorially. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Justice for Syria? Opportunities and Limitations of Universal Jurisdiction Trials in Germany

Published on August 12, 2016        Author: 
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During the ongoing conflict in Syria, horrific international crimes are being committed on a daily basis. With impunity for these crimes prevailing on an international level, the attention of Syrian and international actors is turning towards trials under the principle of universal jurisdiction in national courts. This blog post provides a systematic overview of current trials and investigations in Germany relating to Syria and discusses the possibilities and limitations of such trials.

Impunity Prevailing on International Level

Many of the grave human rights violations in Syria are well documented by international bodies, international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (which rely on evidence from Syrian activists who are documenting these kind of crimes under great personal risk), and national organizations such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Violations Documentations Centre.

However, geopolitical concerns impede effective and timely prosecution of human rights violations and international crimes: The hands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) appear to be tied and a double Security Council Veto by the permanent members, Russia and China, blocked a resolution to refer the situation to the Court. Despite the draft of a Statute as early as 2013, the call for the establishment of a hybrid tribunal by the UN Commission of Inquiry and academic support for this approach as the next best alternative (Van Schaack, Just Security; Sayapin, EJIL Talk), no tangible mechanism has resulted thus far. It follows that the only remaining and realistic avenue to seek justice for international crimes perpetrated in Syria is for other countries to prosecute these crimes by way of universal jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

 

A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague”

Published on April 22, 2016        Author: 
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As recently reported, Croatia has blocked the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union (EU). One of the reasons given relates to Serbia’s law establishing the jurisdiction of Serbian prosecutors and courts over war crimes committed anywhere on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Justifying their actions, Croatian officials have said that Serbia must follow “European standards”, with some Croatian officials and media reports referring to Serbia’s extension of jurisdiction as the creation of a “mini-Hague” (a media report in Serbo-Croatian is available here). Croatia has asserted that such jurisdiction is incompatible with international law and that it actually constitutes a “hybrid”, rather than universal, jurisdiction (available here in Serbo-Croatian). From the perspective of States whose national legislation provides for universal jurisdiction over international crimes, the issues arising here are quite interesting.

The involvement of the European Commission and its request that the Croatian government cease its opposition has added further complexity to the matter. In a ‘non-paper’, the European Commission has expressed its opinion that the arguments advanced by Croatia are not justified. Commenting on the document, a Croatian official has described it as an old document meant for internal use, and one that the Croatian public should not be bothered with.

Jurisdiction over Croatian Nationals

Croatia’s criticism seems to be aimed at the statutory provisions themselves. In particular, Croatia takes issue with Article 3 of the Serbian Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of State Organs in War Crimes Proceedings, which provides:

The government authorities of the Republic of Serbia set out under this Law shall have jurisdiction in proceedings for criminal offences specified in Article 2 hereof, committed on the territory of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim. (An older English version of the law is available here; the quoted provision remains unchanged.)

Croatia thus appears concerned with the possibility of Serbia exercising its jurisdiction over Croatian nationals. No accusations of discriminatory or systematic prosecutions by Serbian prosecutors against Croatian nationals have been advanced by Croatia.  To date, universal jurisdiction has not been extensively used to prosecute foreign nationals for war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the Yugoslav conflict; reported cases include both an acquittal and a rejection of a request for extradition (for the reason of an allegedly politically motivated process) of two Bosnians. In 2015, a Croatian national sentenced in Serbia for war crimes was transferred to serve his sentence in Croatia.

Compliance with “European Standards” and International Law

The Croatian government is targeting a particular statutory provision, which in its opinion, marks Serbia’s intention to act as a “regional policeman”. Read the rest of this entry…