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Universal Jurisdiction and the Fight Against Torture: Ensuring Accountability Through a Human Rights Centred Approach

Hammarström, Elina LU (2020) LAGM01 20201
Faculty of Law
Department of Law
Abstract
Within international human rights law, the prohibition of torture is absolute and uncontroversial. However, despite considerable efforts to end it, torture remains a pervasive problem all over the world, in part due to the widespread impunity for such acts. Many have hence identified universal jurisdiction as one of the ways whereby accountability for torture may be enhanced. The present thesis examines universal jurisdiction in the light of existing state obligations related to torture under international human rights law. It hereby adopts an approach which transcends strict regime demarcations, by considering universal jurisdiction, which is typically invoked in an international criminal law ambit, from a human rights perspective and by... (More)
Within international human rights law, the prohibition of torture is absolute and uncontroversial. However, despite considerable efforts to end it, torture remains a pervasive problem all over the world, in part due to the widespread impunity for such acts. Many have hence identified universal jurisdiction as one of the ways whereby accountability for torture may be enhanced. The present thesis examines universal jurisdiction in the light of existing state obligations related to torture under international human rights law. It hereby adopts an approach which transcends strict regime demarcations, by considering universal jurisdiction, which is typically invoked in an international criminal law ambit, from a human rights perspective and by assessing its value in the realm of state obligations in the fight against torture.

The thesis argues that there exists a paradox in the relationship between the struggle against torture in international human rights law, which is built on state obligations, and the traditional understanding of universal jurisdiction, which is typically considered an entitlement, rather than an obligation, of states. The thesis therefore aims, firstly, to problematize the current paradoxical understanding of universal jurisdiction in association with crimes under international law, with a specific focus on acts of torture; and secondly, it seeks to construct a human rights centred understanding of universal jurisdiction in an attempt to begin to resolve the paradox. This is done through an examination of positive state obligations to end impunity for torture in general international human rights law; the principle of universal jurisdiction as traditionally understood and as enshrined in customary international law; relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture; and the right to an effective remedy for victims of torture offences.

The thesis concludes that universal jurisdiction is traditionally considered to be a state entitlement, rather than an obligation. In relation to torture, the UN Convention Against Torture however prescribes the assertion and exercise of primary, compulsory universal jurisdiction over torture offences when the suspect is physically present within the territory of a States Party to the convention. Under international human rights law, victims of torture enjoy the right to an effective remedy, which includes individual rights to e.g. investigation, access to justice and reparation for the harm suffered. A human rights centred approach to universal jurisdiction must therefore be based on state obligations to exercise universal jurisdiction in certain situations and be in accordance with states’ existing human rights obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone within their jurisdiction.

In the future, the principle of universal jurisdiction, which today suffers from serious ambiguity and controversy, needs to be governed by a clear legal framework which defines the concept itself, its legal limits and the situations in which its application is compulsory, so as to strengthen the international rule of law and limit both over and under-extension of jurisdiction. Considering the importance of human rights protection in the system of international law, the only way to ensure the legitimacy of such a framework is to place human rights at its center. (Less)
Popular Abstract (Swedish)
Inom det folkrättsliga regelverket för mänskliga rättigheter är förbudet mot tortyr absolut och okontroversiellt. Trots de betydande insatser som gjorts för att bekämpa tortyr, kvarstår det dock som ett allvarligt och utbrett problem, delvis på grund av att faktisk straffrihet förblir vanligt. Universell jurisdiktion har därför identifierats som ett verktyg för att försöka säkerställa straffrättsligt ansvarsutkrävande för tortyr. Uppsatsen undersöker universell jurisdiktion i ljuset av staters existerande folkrättsliga skyldigheter att säkerställa skyddet mot tortyr. I uppsatsen antas härvid ett perspektiv som överskrider strikta gränsdragningar mellan folkrättens olika regimer genom att undersöka universell jurisdiktion, som traditionellt... (More)
Inom det folkrättsliga regelverket för mänskliga rättigheter är förbudet mot tortyr absolut och okontroversiellt. Trots de betydande insatser som gjorts för att bekämpa tortyr, kvarstår det dock som ett allvarligt och utbrett problem, delvis på grund av att faktisk straffrihet förblir vanligt. Universell jurisdiktion har därför identifierats som ett verktyg för att försöka säkerställa straffrättsligt ansvarsutkrävande för tortyr. Uppsatsen undersöker universell jurisdiktion i ljuset av staters existerande folkrättsliga skyldigheter att säkerställa skyddet mot tortyr. I uppsatsen antas härvid ett perspektiv som överskrider strikta gränsdragningar mellan folkrättens olika regimer genom att undersöka universell jurisdiktion, som traditionellt åberopas inom den internationella straffrätten, och granska den utifrån staters internationella åtaganden för mänskliga rättigheter, i kampen mot tortyr.

I uppsatsen anförs att det existerar en paradox i förhållandet mellan kampen mot tortyr som en del av skyddet för mänskliga rättigheter, som bygger på staters bindande skyldigheter, och den traditionella synen på universell jurisdiktion, som typiskt sett betraktas som en rättighet, inte en förpliktelse, för stater. Syftet med undersökningen är därför, för det första, att problematisera den nuvarande paradoxala synen på universell jurisdiktion i förhållande till internationella brott, med specifikt fokus på tortyr. För det andra är syftet att konstruera en alternativ tolkning av universell jurisdiktion baserad på mänskliga rättigheter. Detta görs genom att undersöka i) staters existerande folkrättsliga åtaganden att säkerställa straffrättsligt ansvarsutkrävande för tortyr, ii) den traditionella synen på universell jurisdiktion som utgör en del av den internationella sedvanerätten, iii) relevanta delar av FN:s Konvention mot tortyr, och iv) rätten till ett effektivt rättsmedel för tortyroffer.

Baserat på undersökningen dras slutsatsen att universell jurisdiktion traditionellt sett ses som en rätt, inte en skyldighet för stater. Vad gäller tortyr föreskriver dock tortyrkonventionen primär, obligatorisk, universell jurisdiktion över tortyrmål i fall där den misstänkte befinner sig inom en konventionsstats territorium. Enligt de mänskliga rättigheterna åtnjuter tortyroffer en rätt till effektivt rättsmedel, vilket omfattar bland annat rätten att få sitt fall utrett, rätten till rättslig prövning och rätten till ersättning för skada. En modell för universell jurisdiktion baseras på mänskliga rättigheter måste därför, för det första, baseras på en skyldighet för stater att i vissa situationer tillämpa sin jurisdiktion och, för det andra, vara i enlighet med existerande skyldigheter att respektera, skydda och uppfylla de mänskliga rättigheterna för alla som befinner sig inom statens jurisdiktion.

Universell jurisdiktion lider idag av betydande otydligheter och dess användning är kontroversiellt. För att stärka den internationella rättssäkerheten och förebygga både dess för breda och för smala tillämpning, behöver universell jurisdiktion i framtiden regleras av ett tydligt internationellt regelverk. Ett sådant regelverk bör definiera principen, förtydliga dess juridiska gränser och klarlägga i vilka situationer dess tillämpning är obligatoriskt. Betydelsen av skyddet för de mänskliga rättigheterna i det folkrättsliga systemet innebär att det enda sättet att säkerställa regelverkets legitimitet är att placera de mänskliga rättigheterna i dess centrum. (Less)
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author
Hammarström, Elina LU
supervisor
organization
course
LAGM01 20201
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
universal jurisdiction, torture, accountability, public international law, human rights, human rights approach, UNCAT
language
English
id
9013901
date added to LUP
2020-06-11 17:21:42
date last changed
2020-06-11 17:21:42
@misc{9013901,
  abstract     = {Within international human rights law, the prohibition of torture is absolute and uncontroversial. However, despite considerable efforts to end it, torture remains a pervasive problem all over the world, in part due to the widespread impunity for such acts. Many have hence identified universal jurisdiction as one of the ways whereby accountability for torture may be enhanced. The present thesis examines universal jurisdiction in the light of existing state obligations related to torture under international human rights law. It hereby adopts an approach which transcends strict regime demarcations, by considering universal jurisdiction, which is typically invoked in an international criminal law ambit, from a human rights perspective and by assessing its value in the realm of state obligations in the fight against torture. 

The thesis argues that there exists a paradox in the relationship between the struggle against torture in international human rights law, which is built on state obligations, and the traditional understanding of universal jurisdiction, which is typically considered an entitlement, rather than an obligation, of states. The thesis therefore aims, firstly, to problematize the current paradoxical understanding of universal jurisdiction in association with crimes under international law, with a specific focus on acts of torture; and secondly, it seeks to construct a human rights centred understanding of universal jurisdiction in an attempt to begin to resolve the paradox. This is done through an examination of positive state obligations to end impunity for torture in general international human rights law; the principle of universal jurisdiction as traditionally understood and as enshrined in customary international law; relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture; and the right to an effective remedy for victims of torture offences. 

The thesis concludes that universal jurisdiction is traditionally considered to be a state entitlement, rather than an obligation. In relation to torture, the UN Convention Against Torture however prescribes the assertion and exercise of primary, compulsory universal jurisdiction over torture offences when the suspect is physically present within the territory of a States Party to the convention. Under international human rights law, victims of torture enjoy the right to an effective remedy, which includes individual rights to e.g. investigation, access to justice and reparation for the harm suffered. A human rights centred approach to universal jurisdiction must therefore be based on state obligations to exercise universal jurisdiction in certain situations and be in accordance with states’ existing human rights obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone within their jurisdiction. 

In the future, the principle of universal jurisdiction, which today suffers from serious ambiguity and controversy, needs to be governed by a clear legal framework which defines the concept itself, its legal limits and the situations in which its application is compulsory, so as to strengthen the international rule of law and limit both over and under-extension of jurisdiction. Considering the importance of human rights protection in the system of international law, the only way to ensure the legitimacy of such a framework is to place human rights at its center.},
  author       = {Hammarström, Elina},
  keyword      = {universal jurisdiction,torture,accountability,public international law,human rights,human rights approach,UNCAT},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Universal Jurisdiction and the Fight Against Torture: Ensuring Accountability Through a Human Rights Centred Approach},
  year         = {2020},
}