The Authority of Universal Jurisdiction
European Journal of International Law, Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 427-456, 23 July 2018, doi.org/10.1093/ejil/chy037
Posted: 6 Apr 2018 Last revised: 22 Aug 2018
Date Written: March 28, 2018
The aim of this article is to flesh out the implications of seeing universal jurisdiction as a claim to authority. While the idea that jurisdiction is an exercise of authority may seem obvious, the article invites attention to the ‘claim’ inherent within it, particularly where the exercise of jurisdiction intrudes upon or displaces competing claims. Legal scholars and practitioners tend to focus on the legal source of authority to exercise universal jurisdiction. The consequence is a tendency to think in binary terms: a court either has jurisdiction, in which case the matter will proceed (without further attention to the question of jurisdiction), or it does not, in which case the whole matter is at an end. Jurisdictional thinking invites attention to the need for those asserting such a claim to take responsibility for these claims to authority, encouraging responsiveness to the normative communities such claims put into relation and the potential need to rethink conventional modes of operation. The article proceeds in two parts. Part I examines the deficiencies in the dominant ‘legal source’ narrative on universal jurisdiction. Part II assesses the value of understanding the legal-political dimension of universal jurisdiction as a claim to authority that must be understood, and justified, with attention to its purpose and the community (or communities) it is intended to serve.
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