The concept of universal jurisdiction allows that a state may assert jurisdiction to charge, convict and punish crimes so universally heinous and universally condemned under the law of nations, even though the state has no territorial connection to the offender or its victims.
The principle of universal jurisdiction is classically defined as ‘a legal principle allowing or requiring a state to bring criminal proceedings in respect of certain crimes irrespective of the location of the crime and the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim’. In simple terms, the principle of universal jurisdiction allows for the trial of international crimes committed by anybody, anywhere in the world.
Non-Aligned Movement believes that the universal jurisdiction was an important principle of international law aimed at combating impunity and bringing justice to victims. The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction was included in Agenda Item 85 in 2009. NAM Member States have actively participated in the debates and discussions regarding the scope of application of these principles in the Sixth Committee in the United Nations General Assembly. But at the same time, the Movement has allayed its concern over the fact that abusive exercise of Universal Jurisdiction can have negative effects on international relations.
During the discussion “On Agenda Item 85, On The Scope And Application Of The Principle Of Universal Jurisdiction”, held on 11 October 2016, at the 71st Session Of the United Nations General Assembly, Iran speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, urged all States to reflect on the issue with a view to identifying its scope and the limits of its application, and to prevent any inappropriate recourse to it. Iran reiterated NAM’s principled position that that the sovereign equality of States, as well as the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, should be observed in judicial proceeding.
The exercise of criminal jurisdiction by national courts invoking universal jurisdiction over high-ranking officials who enjoyed immunity under international law was a violation of the sovereignty of States. Iran also stated that invoking universal jurisdiction against some Member States of the Non-Aligned Movement, in violation of the principle of immunity of State officials before the courts of other States, had generated concerns about its legal and political implications. Further clarification was needed to prevent improper resort to universal jurisdiction, he said, noting that decisions of the International Court of Justice and the work of the International Law Commission were among sources that might be useful during the Sixth Committee’s discussions. The legitimacy and credibility of applying universal jurisdiction would be ensured by its responsible application, consistent with international law.
At the same event, Singapore aligning itself with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement a few points regarding how the scope of the principle of universal jurisdiction should be articulated. First, Universal jurisdiction should only be asserted for the most serious and abhorrent crimes that affect the international community as a whole, and which the international community has generally agreed are crimes for which the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction would be appropriate. Second, Universal jurisdiction is not and should not be seen as the primary basis for the exercise of criminal jurisdiction. Third, the principle of universal jurisdiction exists within a larger international legal order and thus, the principle therefore cannot be exercised in isolation, or to the exclusion of other relevant rules and principles of international law. Fourth, the exercise of universal jurisdiction, which is a principle of customary international law, and the exercise of jurisdiction as provided for in treaties or the exercise of jurisdiction by international tribunals constituted under specific treaty regimes are two different scenarios and should not be conflated together. Fifth, universal declaration must be exercised in non-arbitrary manner for crimes of exceptional gravity, in complementarity with other established bases of jurisdiction and principles of international law.
Non-Aligned Movement thus stresses the need for avoidance of any misuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction in both the criminal and civil matters and believes firmly that comprehensive and balanced approach to universal jurisdiction should take into account the principles of international law, customary international law and the principles of the Charter. Universal jurisdiction should be considered with absolute respect for sovereignty and national jurisdiction.