Thursday, May 21, 2009

Repealing an International Law?

It looks like an article of international law is in the process of being repealed -- because it just won't fly.

Reports out today indicate that Spain is reconsidering its universal jurisdiction statute and may repeal or restrict it. A universal jurisdiction statute gives courts jurisdiction over international crimes that do not meet ordinary jurisdictional requirements—that is, do not take place on the state's territory, or involve the state's nationals as perpetrators or victims.


The last point is worth pondering. These statutes have been around for quite some time. They are on the books of dozens of countries, which have duly adopted them in order to comply with international treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, which obliges states to prosecute violations that occur anywhere in the world. Amnesty International has made much of these statutes, claiming on the basis of state practice that domestic prosecution of international crimes ion the basis of universal jurisdiction is an established principle of international law. But as AI itself concedes, prosecutions and convictions are as rare as hen's teeth. States legislate but do not act. Restrictions in the statutes, plus in some cases political control over prosecution (which is otherwise unacceptable in inquisitorial systems), do the job. Where they do act, as Spain is learning, they run into trouble.

So a body can declare what international law says, but practical concerns may still veto the law.

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