Briefing Paper

Louise Arimatsu
  • Impunity for gross human rights violations, whether perpetrated in war or peacetime, was for long the norm, but the 1990s witnessed a transformation worldwide with increasing demands for legal accountability in respect of international crimes.
  • The genocide in Rwanda prompted the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal while the International Criminal Court is pursuing prosecutions in respect of serious human rights violations committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Darfur, Sudan and Kenya.
  • But the limited capacity of international mechanisms to deal with the scale of violations has redirected attention to domestic courts both within the state where the crime was committed and abroad.
  • The initiation of criminal proceedings by European courts has generally been welcomed by the state where the crime was committed. Sometimes, however, the exercise of universal jurisdiction, particularly where it has involved senior sitting officials, has caused serious political friction between African and other states.
  • It is unlikely that principles to determine which state should try which crimes will be agreed upon. If the state where the crime was committed is able and willing to prosecute, that is usually the best course, but the need to bring justice for victims should encourage any state to bring proceedings if the territorial state is not able to do so.