Imagining the International Community: The Constitutive Dimension of Universal Jurisdiction

Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 31, pp. 129-162, 2009

Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 09-04

35 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2009

See all articles by Adeno Addis

Adeno Addis

Tulane University - Law School

Date Written: February 2009


The assertion of prescriptive and adjudicative universal jurisdictions by some countries in relation to a handful of offenses that are classified as international or universal crimes (e.g. genocide) has led to a great deal of controversy. Those who favor universal jurisdiction argue that certain acts (often crimes) affect all of us, not just the specific individual or group of victims or the country of which the victims are nationals. It is therefore legitimate, they argue, for any state to punish or suppress such acts regardless of any traditional jurisdictional connection between the alleged acts and the state asserting jurisdiction. The availability of universal jurisdiction is premised on the presumed effect of certain crimes on humanity as a whole. Those who commit these offenses are referred to as hostis humani generis -- enemies of human kind. Skeptics argue that the idea of universal jurisdiction is conceptually incoherent, inconsistent with the principle of political self-determination, and has great potential to be an instrument of political mischief. While they disagree on the conceptual coherence and utility of the notion of universal jurisdiction, both proponents and opponents view its function in purely instrumental terms, to provide the condition for punishing or suppressing certain offenses that affect all of us. This article argues that universal jurisdiction also serves another, less articulated purpose. It has a constitutive function as well. It is partly a process through which the identity of the international community is imagined and enacted. It is an expression of a sense of ourselves (a community of humankind) at given moments of time. This article argues that neglect of this constitutive dimension leads to an incomplete analysis of universal jurisdiction.

Keywords: universal jurisdiction

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Addis, Adeno, Imagining the International Community: The Constitutive Dimension of Universal Jurisdiction (February 2009). Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 31, pp. 129-162, 2009, Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 09-04, Available at SSRN:

Adeno Addis (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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