Ending Impunity or Decreasing Accountability: Averting Abuse of Universal Jurisdiction
In 1998, a Spanish court issued an arrest warrant against former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet while he was in the United Kingdom for medical treatment. The House of Lords' rejection of head of state immunity for Pinochet was seen at the time as a landmark in the acceptance of universal jurisdiction and the rejection of sovereign rights. In years since, courts in some Western nations have invoked concepts of universal jurisdiction to entertain suits against senior political figures such as Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Ariel Sharon and Henry Kissinger, as well as participants in the Rwandan genocide and Argentinean death squads. Many of these cases have been set aside due to diplomatic furor. Courts in Jordan have purported to have the authority to try Danish journalists for "insulting the Prophet." This litigation has yet to be resolved.
Supporters have hailed the spread of trials and civil suits based upon universal jurisdiction as the end of impunity for gross violations of human rights and terrible crimes. Opponents have attacked the burgeoning universal jurisdiction for undermining state sovereignty, selective and politicized prosecution, undermining human rights and peace-making efforts, and failing to deter future crimes.
On the tenth anniversary of the Pinochet case, this conference will take stock of the record of universal jurisdiction, as well as the grounds for supporting and opposing it. At the conference, leading academic experts explored the law and theory of universal jurisdiction. A public closing panel of the conference presented the public with a critical look at the promise and perils of universal jurisdiction and a debate about its mixed record.
Chairman: Ambassador Dore Gold- Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Former Representative of Israel to the United Nations
Prof. Gregory Gordon- Former Legal Officer, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, first Post-Nuremberg Prosecutions for Incitement to Genocide
Adv. Irit Kohn- Bar Ilan University, Deputy President of International Jewish Lawyers and Jurist Organization and former Director of the International Department of the Israeli Ministry of Justice
Prof. Avi Bell- Global Law Forum, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs- Bar Ilan University
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich- Northwestern Law
Click here to view expert panel discussion on the merits of universal jurisdiction.
The Israeli Case
IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog addressed a conference in London on Nov. 26 through a video link, since according to British law he could be arrested in Britain for allegations made by Palestinian activists with regard to his past efforts to fight terrorist organizations in Gaza.
The idea of universal jurisdiction was conceived to stop officials who have engaged in war crimes, like genocide, and who have escaped the law. It should be directed at countries like Iran, where those who incite for mass murder are considered heroes, and not against the U.S., the UK and Israel, who are leading the war on terrorism and have functioning legal systems that prosecute those who really violate the laws of war.
Click here to view the video.
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