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Europe's role in strengthening and protecting Universal Justice

May 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm

The International Criminal Court (ICC)

The last decade has seen some major welcome developments by the international community to promote universal justice and human rights. This is manifest, for instance, in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague following the 1998 Rome Statute. The ICC was set up in an effort to end the impunity of offenders who commit the most serious crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The urgent need for the establishment of such an independent body, to ensure that no individual would be beyond impunity, was cemented by the horrors unfolding in the Balkans in the 1990’s as well as the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, while efforts were made to set up tribunals into crimes committed in those regions, no similar efforts were made to bring Israel to account for its offences against the Palestinian people despite numerous calls for international tribunals into Israeli war crimes.

Universal Jurisdiction

Efforts to advance and protect the role of universal jurisdiction have been a further development in advancing human rights and seeking justice for the victims of some of the world’s most heinous crimes. The idea behind universal jurisdiction is that no country should be a safe haven for those individuals who commit the crimes universally recognised to be amongst the most grave, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Universal jurisdiction is a concept that ranks extremely highly with proponents and advocates of human rights as it ultimately means that anyone can be prosecuted for those crimes regardless of where they are in the world. The arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998 is one of the most well known examples of universal jurisdiction implemented in recent history.

Culture of Israeli impunity

Notwithstanding, a culture of impunity continues to persist in many parts of the world. It is particularly worrying in relation to Israel and its ongoing mistreatment of the Palestinian people. Israel in particular seems to have become largely immune to both international opinion and law. Despite regularly committing grave breaches of international law, in a manner which many independent bodies including the UN have declared to amount to war crimes and even crimes against humanity, Israel has remained illusive when it comes to facing justice. With the assistance of the international community, who have not been living up to their obligations under international law, Israel has found itself immune to prosecution, and the Palestinians have found themselves entirely without recourse to justice for the daily and gross human rights violations being committed against their people.

The ICC has yet to be used to bring about prosecutions for Israeli war crimes and universal jurisdiction too is under threat with moves currently underway to change the law in the United Kingdom, for instance, to allow Israelis accused of war crimes to visit the UK without fear of prosecution.

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