January 17, 2019

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 will focus 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 will focus 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.


  • Beth Van SchaackLeah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at the Law School and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Security & Cooperation, Stanford University
  • Wolfgang KaleckGeneral Secretary and Legal Director, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
  • Anwar al-Bunni, Human Rights Lawyer in Syria
  • Moderator: Darren Fenwick, Committee Leader, International Human Rights Committee


The Prevalence of “Present-In” Jurisdiction

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

Joint Sponsor

ABA International Human Rights Committees of the ABA Section of International Law 


ABA Center for Human Rights, ROLI and SIL's International Criminal Law Committee.