Universal jurisdiction is a tool to provide accountability for international crimes, such as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and torture. As these crimes shock the conscience of mankind, the universality principle allows any state to bring to justice perpetrators of such crimes, regardless of the place where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the presumed offender or victim. While many states formally provide for universal jurisdiction in their criminal codes, they do not often exercise it. And when they do so, they tend to be motivated by national interests rather than international community interests (see Ryngaert 2019, Kontorovich 2019 and Mégret 2015 for scholarly observations).
On 8 January 2021, the Seoul Central District Court of South Korea rejected Japan’s State immunity plea in a case brought by twelve ‘comfort women’ who were forcibly subjected to systemic sexual enslavement by the Japanese military before and during World War II (an English translation of the judgment is available here). The court held Japan liable for these practices and entitled each of the women to 100 million KRW (approximately 77,000 EUR). In this post, we note that this decision is in tension with the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Jurisdictional Immunities Case (Germany v Italy; Greece intervening, 2012). In this judgment, the ICJ held that a foreign State, even if accused of committing international crimes, remains entitled to immunity from jurisdiction under customary international law. However, we also argue that international law in this field may be in flux, in the sense that an exception to State immunity regarding international crimes may be emerging. Furthermore, even if such an exception has not emerged just yet, domestic courts may refuse to give effect to relevant international immunity norms to the extent that they clash with constitutionally protected fundamental rights, such as the right of access to a court.
Op 18 september 2020 stelde het Nederlandse kabinet Syrië middels een diplomatieke nota internationaalrechtelijk aansprakelijk voor grove mensenrechtenschendingen, in het bijzonder foltering, die door het Syrische regime sinds 2011 zouden zijn gepleegd. De Kamer werd hiervan gelijk op de hoogte gebracht. De Syrische regering reageerde afwijzend op de nota en beschuldigde Nederland er op haar beurt van op onrechtmatige wijze Syrische ‘terroristen’ te hebben gesteund. De Nederlandse actie is vermoedelijk de opmaat voor een juridische procedure tegen Syrië voor het Internationaal Gerechtshof. In deze post bespreek ik de internationale rechtsbasis en juridische implicaties van dit opmerkelijke Nederlandse optreden. Tevens verwijs ik naar enkele internationale precedenten hiervoor.
Five years ago, I wrote a Ucall blogpost on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Jaloud v the Netherlands (2014), which concerned the 2004 death of Mr Jaloud in southern Iraq. Mr Jaloud died from gunfire at a vehicle checkpoint which was at the time under the authority and control of Dutch troops participating in the Stabilization Force in Iraq (SFIR). It is recalled that the ECtHR held that the Dutch investigation into the circumstances surrounding Jaloud’s death failed to meet the standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and thus that the Netherlands had breached its procedural obligations regarding the right to life. The ECtHR’s judgment paved the way for further litigation regarding Jaloud’s violent death. Subsequent to the judgment, Jaloud’s father filed a civil suit against the Dutch State in the District Court of The Hague (hereafter ‘Hague District Court’), which rendered an interlocutory judgment on 20 November 2019. Lees verder
On 14 September 2019, I gave a presentation on cosmopolitanism and extraterritoriality at the annual conference of the European Society of International Law in Athens, Greece (panel on extraterritoriality). In this post I restate the main points of my presentation. This post also serves as a wrap-up of two research projects which I have carried out over the last five years, partly under Ucall auspices, on extraterritoriality and global values. These projects involved in total seven PhD researchers, whom I would like to wholeheartedly thank for their contributions. Two of these researchers were affiliated with Ucall (Lucas Roorda and Friederycke Haijer). A monograph bringing together the various parts of the project is forthcoming in spring 2020, provisionally titled ‘Selfless Intervention. The Exercise of Jurisdiction in the Common Interest’ (under contract with Oxford University Press). As cramming the research results of a large project into one blogpost is quite impossible, I will paint with a broad brush, and make choices. I will start by defining cosmopolitanism, and go on to explain how common interest-based reasoning may be inscribed into existing principles of jurisdiction, in particular territoriality. The first part of the post will be conceptual, while the second part will be more practical and doctrinal. Lees verder
On 13 June 2019, I was invited to speak in The Hague at the book launch of the new Commentary on the UN Convention against Corruption (Oxford University Press 2019, edited by Cecily Rose et al.). For this book, Friederycke Haijer and I (both Ucall) wrote a commentary to the jurisdictional article of the Convention (Article 42 UNCAC). At the launch, I addressed the question whether a state could hold a person liable for ‘extraterritorial’ corrupt practices – practices that largely take place outside the regulating state. I argue that, in principle, it can do so, but that extraterritorial liability is not limitless. Especially expansive US enforcement practices, which are based on only a tenuous US connection, may amount to jurisdictional overreach. Lees verder
Op 10 juli 2018 bracht de permanente missie van Ecuador bij de Verenigde Naties een “sneuveltekst” (zero draft) uit van een juridisch bindend instrument over de impact van de activiteiten van transnationale ondernemingen op de mensenrechten. Een werkgroep van de Verenigde Naties zal de tekst nu verder bespreken. Die werkgroep had al in 2014 een mandaat gekregen voor de uitwerking van een verdrag ter zake. Een beperkte groep landen uit het Globale Zuiden onder leiding van Ecuador, gesteund door een coalitie van niet-gouvernementele organisaties, bereidde vervolgens de weg voor de sneuveltekst. Het is onwaarschijnlijk dat deze tekst ook de verdragstekst zal worden, maar hij geeft wel een duidelijke richting aan de discussies die de komende tijd zullen plaatshebben binnen de VN-werkgroep. In deze post bespreek ik kort de inhoud van de tekst en plaats ik die in het bredere debat over de verantwoordelijkheid van ondernemingen om de mensenrechten te eerbiedigen. Ik onthaal de tekst in algemene zin positief, met name omdat hij goed aansluit bij eerdere (niet-bindende) initiatieven. Niettemin zouden de opstellers van het instrument er goed aan doen de relatie tussen due diligence-verplichtingen en juridische aansprakelijkheid van ondernemingen voor schendingen van de mensenrechten te verhelderen. Lees verder
On 19 July 2018, the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations released a zero draft on a legally binding instrument (LBI) – a treaty in fact – on business and human rights. This zero draft will serve as the basis for negotiations during the fourth session of an ‘Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group’ which will take place in Geneva between 15 and 19 October 2018. Quite a number of other posts (including Lopez in Opinio Juris and Cassel in Letters Blogatory) have been published in the wake of the release of the zero draft. None of them focuses specifically on the question of jurisdiction, however. This is remarkable, as it is difficult to escape the presence of the concept of jurisdiction in the LBI. While only one article of the LBI is specifically titled ‘jurisdiction’ (Article 5, which deals with adjudicatory jurisdiction), the term ‘jurisdiction’ also features in five other articles of the LBI. That jurisdiction is so pervasive throughout the LBI is mainly because it is such a multifaceted notion. For different lawyers, it may mean different things. The treaty would benefit from some clarity on the matter, in particular regarding the linkages between the different understandings of jurisdiction. In this post, I make some suggestions in this regard. Lees verder
I was recently invited as a legal expert to reflect on the potential for accountability of Dutch corporations profiting from the labour exploitation of North Korean workers abroad. Already in 2016, a team led by Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University, had issued a report detailing the appalling (forced) labour conditions in which North Koreans work in Europe. This happens in particular in Poland where they are forced to work on shipyards and have to hand most of their wages to the North Korean government. Apparently, North Korea ‘trafficks’ these workers to Poland for self-enrichment purposes. In the wake of this report, investigative work sponsored by the Why? Foundation exposed how various corporations and governments are complicit in these abuses (this work resulted in a documentary, Dollar Heroes, more information can be found here). On that basis, Breuker’s research team produced a follow-up report, released on 6 February 2018, which highlighted the involvement of Dutch corporations, notably as buyers of ships made by North Koreans in Poland. In this post, I explain on what grounds these corporations could be held to account under Dutch criminal law, and in particular how Dutch jurisdiction could be established over them. Lees verder
On 2 November 2017, Natasa Nedeski successfully defended her PhD on ‘shared obligations in international law’ at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). I had the honour of being a member of the reading committee. Nedeski happens to be a former bachelor student of us at Utrecht University (UU). She also pursued an LL.M. in Public International Law at UU, and was a junior lecturer at UU. She subsequently joined Prof. André Nollkaemper’s project on shared responsibility, of which this thesis on shared obligations is one of the outcomes. In this post, I describe and commend the main findings of Nedeski’s thesis. Lees verder