When the International Jurisdiction Becomes Difficult…

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By KRISTIAM HERRERA-CARRASCO, THE NEW YORK TIMES

When it comes to deciding the punishment of criminals that have committed crimes across more than one border, the process becomes tricky. A group, like Pirate Bay, that sets up a torrent website – pirating media, that is – is a prime example of an operation that crosses into international territory. Trafficking drugs, weapons, or any number of other black-market products is another example. Most countries judge these aforementioned crimes in vastly dissimilar ways. Even more of a problem are that those crimes may not be so easily assessed in their severity.

Universal jurisdiction, however, hopes to settle cases in which the perpetrator has committed obvious crimes that threaten large populations. These cases include genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.  The most famous trials that highlighted the use of this type of jurisdiction occurred during the Nuremberg Trials, which sought to charge the Nazis for their heinous crimes, the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when he was in London for crimes committed in violation of human rights from 1973 to 1990, and even charges from Iraqi victims against United States Presidents Bush (both H.W. Bush and W. Bush), Clinton, Obama, along with Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and four U.K. Prime Ministers of the bombings in Baghdad of 1991 and 2003.

The criticism that commonly follows this phenomenon – such as that of Henry Kissinger – tends to be that the jurisdiction on a universal (or international, rather) would ignore that of sovereign states.  There are, furthermore, other predicaments that become known when charges are tried against individuals like government officials – some of these sovereign states or nations outright grant immunity to all officials. Most of the great powers of the world do recognize quite similar statutes, but the discrepancies remain sufficient to incite doubt in the efficacy of universal jurisdiction.

The answer to the overarching challenges in the Legal Committee, however, would certainly not be to prompt an absolute dissolution of this jurisdiction.  There must be a consistent standard, though, if international crimes are to be tried. Currently, since most nations have confirmed their own versions of the universal jurisdiction, it may not be as difficult to compile these standards into a single entity that can work to endeavor the trials. The goal of the entire endeavor would have to be absolute definition, without which the efforts of individual nations could be made to be valueless. In the face of corruption, a definitive version of universal jurisdiction could mean the capacity to avoid such. It would still take more time to gauge the extent to which states would be comfortable in allowing a detached unit to undertake trials, and reaching a consensus worldwide might require something of a more democratic process.

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