The book project is based on assistant professor Vangens doctoral thesis: «Universal Jurisdiction – General International Law Limits on States’ Right to Prosecute Offences Committed Abroad».
Universal jurisdiction is national criminal jurisdiction over offences committed abroad by foreigners against foreigners, and which are not threatening the vital interests of the state itself. The topic is politically sensitive, and both international legal doctrine as well as state rhetoric concerning the matter is characterized by a great degree of discrepancy and uncertainty. Among the most controversial issues are the questions of which crimes that can provide the basis of universal jurisdiction, what characterizes illegal abuse of such jurisdiction, whether it is compatible with international rules on immunity, and whether it can be executed in absentia.
The thesis’ main research question is as follows: When are states allowed by general international law to prosecute crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction? The answer is provided through a thorough analysis of the legal phenomenon of criminal jurisdiction and recognizing universal jurisdiction as a particular category of this phenomenon. Clarifying the national and international aspects and implications of criminal jurisdiction in general, Vangen proves it possible to identify, separate and address the different legal questions related to universal jurisdiction in particular in a systematic manner disregarding the many political arguments and agendas.
Because of the chosen method Vangen is further able to analyze a very broad material from the work of the UN General Assembly’s 6th Commission on “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction”, and extract from it the content of an international jurisdictional principle which constitutes an international custom. This international jurisdictional principle determines when States are allowed to establish universal jurisdiction. Thereafter Vangen examines, as a separate matter, different potential legal obstacles for executing universal jurisdiction that is lawfully established. In this way Vangen’s thesis provides well founded conclusions to all of the most highly disputed questions regarding universal jurisdiction.