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2018 | Syrian Torture Investigations in Germany and Beyond: Breathing New Life into Universal Jurisdiction in Europe? By Wolfgang Kaleck and Patrick Kroker

The article discusses current developments in national prosecutions of international crimes committed in Syria and their potential to challenge normal international and national law mechanisms for prosecuting these crimes. While most national authorities engaging in investigations and prosecutions of international crimes have so far employed a ‘no-safe-haven approach’, investigating and indicting only suspects who are present on their territory, civil society organizations favour investigations against high-level perpetrators still in Syria, demanding state authorities follow a ‘global-enforcer approach’. The article examines various different approaches that have been devised to bring to light the scope and scale of war crimes continually being committed in Syria. These developments include: the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM), established by the UN’s General Assembly, universal jurisdiction as practiced in Europe (and especially Germany) in recent years; French investigations into trans-national corporations and initiatives by civil society organizations. 

 The author argues, in particular, that the potential of universal jurisdiction as a powerful tool in combatting impunity is greater that what European public and scholarly attention to it thus far would suggest. Citing early examples of its application that had far-reaching effects, he argues for the examination of the potential of universal jurisdiction in a more nuanced manner than has generally been the case until now. The article makes no mention of reparation, however, enabling the prosecution of persons suspected of committing international crimes, is in itself a reparatory measure.