The Rise and Fall of Universal Civil Jurisdiction

Posted: 19 Jul 2017

See all articles by Anna Su

Anna Su

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 12, 2017


The paper asks the question why universal civil jurisdiction declined relative to its criminal counterpart. For a long time, universal jurisdiction is largely understood only in the criminal context and to the extent that its civil version is separately recognized, it is argued that it likewise suffered the same misfortune as the Alien Tort Statute in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum in 2013. The aim would be to explain how and why universal civil jurisdiction took the historical trajectory it did and in doing so, confer it an existence separate from universal criminal jurisdiction. In the past two decades, universal aspirations to global justice have become almost synonymous with the pursuit of international criminal accountability. This preoccupation with and the privileging of international criminal law has mistakenly subsumed certain historical events as within the progressive history of ICL and it obscures the distinctive and complementary role that international civil liability can play in addressing human rights violations. It argues that the fall of universal civil jurisdiction is rooted in the reluctance of domestic courts to challenge the position of their national governments in view of the increasing number of complex human rights claims.

Keywords: international human rights, Alien Tort Statute, international criminal law, universal jurisdiction

Suggested Citation

Su, Anna, The Rise and Fall of Universal Civil Jurisdiction (July 12, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Anna Su (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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