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Universal Jurisdiction: A Conversation between Lisa Hajjar and Richard Falk

[Richard Falk and Lisa Hajjar at UC Santa Barbara] [Richard Falk and Lisa Hajjar at UC Santa Barbara]

Richard Falk and Lisa Hajjar engage in a discussion about universal jurisdiction, international law, and criminal accountability for gross crimes (torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity). The doctrine of universal jurisdiction was developed in the 19th century to combat piracy and slave trading on the high seas. The aim was to close a jurisdictional gap by allowing governments to prosecute these "enemies of all mankind" in their own national legal systems despite no direct connection to the crime. Developments in the post-World War II era, notably the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, did not involve universal jurisdiction, but they paved the way for the development of modern international criminal law. Universal jurisdiction was revived in the late 20th century when a Spanish judge, Balthazar Garzon, sought to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from England, where he had traveled, to Spain to stand trial for torture and murder under his regime. The British legal system ruled that Pinochet was indeed prosecutable for torture because there is no legal/sovereign immunity for this gross crime. (Pinochet was not extradited, however, because he was deemed by the British Home Secretary Jack Straw to be too demented to be put on trial.) Following the "Pinochet precedent," some (mostly European) countries instituted or strengthened universal jurisdiction laws into their legal systems. Consequently, these governments came under pressure (mainly from the US and/or Israel) to revise or cancel those laws to prevent their use against officials from powerful states. Most universal jurisdiction cases, to date, have targeted perpetrators from the global south, primarily Africa. Whether this constitutes "justice" is one of the issues that frames the debate about the benefits and liabilities of universal jurisdiction. 

Camera Work: Cory Cullington . Zeituna Productions

On Universal Jurisdiction: Conversation between Richard Falk and Lisa Hajjar from Jadaliyya on Vimeo.

This is a conversation between Richard Falk and Jadaliyya Co-Editor Lisa Hajjar on the topic of Universal Jurisdiction, Impunity, and Accountability. The conversation was co-edited by Noura Erakat and Bassam Haddad.

If you prefer, email your comments to info@jadaliyya.com.

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