A Principle of International Justice
Universal jurisdiction is the principle that every country has an interest in bringing to justice the perpetrators of grave crimes, no matter where the crime was committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or their victims.
Since the end of WWII, there have been investigations or prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction in the courts of at least 17 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. Universal jurisdiction was most famously utilized in the 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on torture charges in London at the request of a Spanish court.
The principle of universal jurisdiction is rooted in the belief that certain crimes, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, “disappearance” and extrajudicial executions, are so serious that they amount to an offence against the whole of humanity and therefore all states have a responsibility to bring those responsible to justice.
To fulfill this responsibility, more than 125 countries have enacted universal jurisdiction laws to ensure that their national courts are able to investigate and prosecute persons suspected of committing these crimes, and to ensure that their country is not used as a “safe haven” to evade justice.