Sample Criminal Justice Essay Paper on Universal Jurisdiction

Universal Jurisdiction

The indictment of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean president, which occurred in London in 1990, changed people’s opinion concerning the international justice and universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction involves having a jurisdiction that can try international crime suspects, regardless of where the crime took place, the nationality of the victims, or the crime suspect’s nationality. The legal justification of Pinochet’s arrest and prosecution outside his country was that he had violated human rights in an attempt to suppress political opponents in Chile. More than 4,000 people died during Pinochet’s reign in Chile. To implement universal jurisdiction, the crime suspect must be within the prescribing state’s territory. Universality jurisdiction presupposes that every state strives to exercise jurisdiction to fight outrageous offenses that are generally condemned by all states.

Pinochet’s case qualified to be tried through universal jurisdiction because the universal jurisdiction allows a national court to put into trial a person suspected of committing a grave international crime even though the suspect is not a citizen of the country in which the court is located (Gurule, 2013). All signatory states agreed that all public officials who commit torture should be tried through universal jurisdiction. The UK claimed that it had jurisdiction over all forms of torture, and Pinochet had no immunity over universal jurisdiction. The legal principle, which was implemented during the Nuremberg trials, indicated that no immunity should be offered for perpetrators of abuses of human rights.

National laws may be allowed to apply extraterritorial principles in their jurisdiction, provided that such jurisdiction is recognizable under public international law. Several principles illustrate extraterritorial jurisdiction. The objective territoriality principle asserts that a state possesses jurisdiction to set down law with regard to activities outside its territory, which could have a significant effect within its territory (Murphy, 2002). The national principle permits a state to regulate or punish an offense committed by its citizens without considering where the offense was committed. The state has the responsibility to ensure that its citizens are safe abroad, but can be charged by their state when their conducts harm others outside the state.

The passive personality principle highlights the states capacity to safeguard their citizens from foreigners, regardless of location of the crime scene. For instance, if a US citizen is a victim of crime committed in Canada, the US courts can command an investigation and prosecute the perpetrators in Canada for violating the US legal status. The protective principle allows the state to maintain the rights to defend its security interests abroad, thus, a state may opt to prosecute individuals from other states if their actions are perceived as a threat to the national security or territorial integrity. The universality principle enables the state to define and prescribe penalty for particular offenses that are recognized by a number of nations as of general concern.

Extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction differs from universal jurisdiction because the latter is likely to be exercised less for business crimes. Under universal jurisdiction, arms traffickers can also be prosecuted in any of the prescribed states. Unlike extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction, universal jurisdiction does not consider any relationship between states, as long as the crime committed is termed as hostis humanis generis (an enemy of mankind). Of all the principles highlighted in extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction, none of them permits the state to prosecute an individual for reasons outside the territorial connection to the prosecuting state. Hence, extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction can only cover beyond national interests if it incorporates universal jurisdiction to prosecute certain crimes.


Murphy, S. D. (2002). United States Practice in International Law: Volume 1, 1999–2001. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gurulé, J. (2013). Complex criminal litigation: Prosecuting drug enterprises and organized crime. Huntington, N.Y: Juris Publishing.