The principle of universal jurisdiction provides for a state’s jurisdiction over crimes against international law even when the crimes did not occur on that state's territory, and neither the victim nor perpetrator is a national of that state. The principle allows national courts in third countries to address international crimes occurring abroad, to hold perpetrators criminally liable, and to prevent impunity.
Crimes against humanity
In June 2020, the German police arrested Alaa M, who has since been held in detention awaiting trial. The reason: strong suspicion of complicity in crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime since 2011. Approximately one year after his arrest, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had filed charges against M, a former Syrian doctor who allegedly tortured, killed and sexually abused people in military hospitals.
The group around the former Syrian military police employee “Caesar” took for the first legal action by filing together with ECCHR a criminal complaint against senior officials from the Syrian intelligence services and the military police concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In November 2017, ECCHR and nine Syrian women and men filed a criminal complaint concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes with the German Federal Public Prosecutor. The complaint is directed against ten high-ranking officials of the National Security Office and Air Force Intelligence, among them Jamil Hassan, its former head.
In March 2009, ECCHR partner lawyer Gonzalo Boye filed a criminal complaint against six former US officials of the Bush administration regarding their accountability for violations of international law, including war crimes and torture. The US officials became known as the “Bush Six.”
Between 2004 and 2007, three complaints were filed in Germany and in France against members of the US Government, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and members of the military forces in connection with war crimes, torture and other criminal acts in the military prisons of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.
ECCHR has filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor calling for investigations into Gina Haspel’s role in the torture of detainees at a CIA secret prison in Thailand in 2002. Haspel was appointed director of the CIA by President Donald Trump in May 2018.