Delegate Name: Aanya Muzumdar
The Principal of Universal Jurisdiction
Aanya Muzumdar, Forest Hills Northern High School
The principle of Universal Jurisdiction asserts that perpetrators who commit heinous offenses against humanity, including crimes such as war crimes, genocide, and torture, are enemies of all humanity. It is the duty of all states to hold them accountable, regardless of borders. Any state should be able to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes regardless of their nationality or the location of the crime. The 1961 prosecution of a senior Nazi official for his role in the Holocaust in Israel and the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain by the UK’s House of Lords in 1999 are prime examples of such application. International tribunals and State courts can invoke this prosecution against such perpetrators. Numerous States have incorporated flavors of universal jurisdiction in their national legislation and criminal codes. There is a strong consensus on the need for the existence of such jurisdiction as it discourages these crimes, but equally exists the concerns of misuse, abuse, the possibility of conflict between states, violations of state sovereignty, the need for political independence, and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, as well as the need for immunity of State officials.
The principle of universal jurisdiction is enshrined in Article 8 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine under which foreign nationals or stateless persons not residing permanently in Ukraine, who have committed criminal offenses outside Ukraine, are criminally liable. As part of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been countless events that conform to the acts of war crimes. Multiple countries including Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Romania have come to Ukraine’s aid and initiated state-level universal jurisdiction investigations into these war crimes. Per requests from numerous countries, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into this situation and issued arrest warrants for two leading Russian officials with no real consequences as does not recognize its universal jurisdiction. Ukraine’s courts have thousands of prosecutions pending related to these war crimes.
Ukraine has been on the receiving end of support and justification using the universal jurisdiction law. It values the existence of this law that was enacted to act as a deterrent to heinous crimes but believes a lot needs to be done to make it effective. It has gaps as not all States have adapted this into their legislations or States invoking universal jurisdiction many times do not have access to the evidence to substantiate the crime, or there is the huge political cost if it is a high profile perpetrator or even if proven guilty or State do not have physical access to the perpetrator to arrest them, or it can be politically motivated. Ukraine believes there needs to be an overarching jurisdiction that mandates and transcends over all States that are part of the UN, one which alleviates the above gaps so it cannot be abused and has the right to hold these criminals accountable so they cannot find the safe haven in their State. Ukraine looks forward to working with other States to build a better alignment on the scope, principle, and process of implementing Universal Jurisdiction to make sure no heinous crime goes unpunished.
Ukraine_Criminal Code, 8 November 2013, https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/eoir/legacy/2013/11/08/criminal_code_0.pdf. Accessed 21 November 2023.
“Universal Criminal Jurisdiction in Ukraine | Institute for War and Peace Reporting.” IWPR, 20 September 2022, https://iwpr.net/global-voices/universal-criminal-jurisdiction-ukraine. Accessed 21 November 2023.
“Universal jurisdiction.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_jurisdiction. Accessed 21 November 2023.