Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review 2021

A year like no other? The impact of coronavirus on universal jurisdiction

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR),
Civitas Maxima,
Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA),
Federation Internationale de Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH)

UJAR 2021: The impact of coronavirus on universal jurisdiction

2020 was heavily marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and challenged state institutions worldwide, including judicial bodies, to change their functioning and priorities. While the pandemic has had an impact on universal jurisdiction cases, it has been more of a reorganization than a complete halt. The Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review (UJAR) demonstrates how many cases, despite the pandemic, did move forward, and new suspects were brought to justice.

In 2020, 18 new cases went to trial, bringing the total to 30 ongoing trials. The most prominent trial in recent years opened in Germany against Syrians Anwar R and Eyad A.

Field investigations were considerably limited, and ongoing investigations which relied on the capacity of witnesses, victims, investigators and judges slowed down or stalled due to travel restrictions. However, NGOs and investigators found new ways of getting in touch with victims and witnesses. These remote meetings also presented advantages, such as enabling victims and witnesses worldwide to share their experience in a protected space.

Most of the cases opened in 2020 could move forward thanks to fact-finding and evidence-gathering missions conducted beforehand. The pandemic consequences emphasized the need for investigations to be conducted as swiftly and thoroughly as possible so that the cases can move ahead when/if the context evolves. This lesson also applies to investigations in unstable zones, which may become inaccessible within a matter of days.

The year 2020 has been a sobering one. Sanitary considerations have been added to the many difficulties of using universal jurisdiction. Despite all this, the cases presented in this UJAR prove that states have risen to the challenge and that justice will not keel.

Read or download the full 2021 UJAR 

This publication was researched and produced by TRIAL International. It benefited from the generous support of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Oak Foundation, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of the United Kingdom and the City of Geneva. It was researched with the contribution of REDRESS, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Center for Justice and Accountability and Civitas Maxima.