July 29, 2019

There is no single comprehensive universal jurisdiction law in the UK. Instead, there is a patchwork of existing laws, treaties and obligations which have evolved over many decades. The current application of universal jurisdiction in the UK is so restricted that even the crime of genocide cannot be prosecuted in British courts.

For the limited crimes which can be prosecuted, a government minister, rather than impartial courts, makes the decision on whether a case can go ahead, meaning political or trade calculations can outweigh the impartial application of justice and upholding international law.

Only 122 of 193 UN members having signed up to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In cases such as Syria, Yemen and Burma, United Nations Security Council members Russia and China are either using, or threatening to use, their veto power to block referrals to the ICC of countries which are not signatories.

Impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity encourages further crimes to be committed.

Expanding the application of universal jurisdiction in the UK would be an important step in helping victims seek justice and reducing the sense of impunity currently enjoyed by those violating international law.

This joint briefing paper by Burma Campaign UK and Justice4Rohingya UK calls on all political parties to commit to introducing a new comprehensive universal jurisdiction law expanding the crimes which can be prosecuted in British courts, and ensuring that impartial courts, not government ministers, have the power to decide whether prosecutions can go ahead. We call on all political parties to put such a commitment in their manifestos ahead of the next general election.

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