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January 16, 2019 RAPID RESPONSE

Universal Jurisdiction: Its Successes, Failures and Opportunities to Hold Perpetrators of Human Rights Violations Accountable

With ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the crisis of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to name a few, war crimes and crimes against humanity are becoming normalized. Governments are unwilling and unable to acknowledge and prosecute perpetrators of mass atrocities. In these conflicts, Governments are the largest perpetrators of human rights abuses against their citizens.

In Syria, for example, over 500,000 have been killed, many at the hands of the Assad regime which the UN has accused of, among other things, using chemical weapons and exterminating, torturing, murdering, raping and imprisoning thousands of civilians. In Yemen, the crisis there has led to a famine of catastrophic proportions and the death of as many as 50,000 people. For the Rohingya, over 700,000 people have been driven from their homes and a United Nations report in 2018 concluded that military leaders there should be prosecuted for genocide and other war crimes.

This webinar focuses on the role of universal jurisdiction to achieve justice when governments have failed to do so, when the United Nations Security Council is unable to refer cases to the ICC, when politics at the United Nations or more broadly within the international community thwart or hinder justice. The discussion focuses on where universal jurisdiction has been successful, its limitations, where it has failed and why and where it can be successful. Anwar al-Bunni will focus on Syria as a case study where universal jurisdiction has been used to issue arrest warrants for actors accused of war crimes.


  • Anwar al-Bunni, Human Rights Lawyer in Syria
  • Wolfgang Kaleck, General Secretary and Legal Director, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
  • Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at the Law School and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Security & Cooperation, Stanford University


  • Darren Fenwick, Committee Leader, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice International Human Rights Committee

Joint Sponsor: ABA International Law Section International Human Rights Committee

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center for Human Rights, ABA Rule of Law Initiative, ABA International Law Section International Criminal Law Committee


The Prevalence of “Present-In” Jurisdiction

Syrian Torture Investigations in Germany and Beyond: Breathing New Life into Universal Jurisdiction in Europe?

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