Universal jurisdiction is an essential piece of the emerging international fabric of justice and accountability for the gravest crimes recognized by the international community. The experiences reviewed in this report show that, while exercising universal jurisdiction can pose challenges to domestic legal systems, these challenges can be overcomeprovided there is an institutional and policy commitment to prosecuting international crimes. On paper, many countries have made this commitment, by signing treaties that mandate the exercise of universal jurisdiction. This report suggests that the yawning gap between principle and practice is slowly closing in some countries in Western Europe, in part because of a real concern that these states not become safe havens for alleged perpetrators of international crimes. The EU has played a leading role in encouraging states to institutionalize their commitment to fight impunity for international crimes, by urging the creation of specialized units and establishing the EU Network.
Despite the progress made in the exercise of universal jurisdiction in recent years, it remains a fragile mechanism. States continue to be nervous about the political consequences of using universal jurisdiction laws, and the possibility of alienating nations with which they have political and economic ties. There is still a real risk that states will try to roll back the exercise of universal jurisdiction through, for example, introducing new limits on victims ability to bring private prosecutions.
The states considered in this report, which have strong investigative capacities and highly developed legal systems, are well-placed to lead the way in the exercise of universal jurisdiction. They have the potential to serve as valuable sources of experience and information concerning the practical exercise of universal jurisdiction, and it is vital that countries cooperate with each other in sharing this knowledge. Most importantly, they must maintain their commitment to ensuring that universal jurisdiction lives up to its promise as an effective tool in the fight against impunity for international crimes.