A critical assessment of the exercise of universal jurisdiction by South African courts

Burke, Christopher Leslie (2015-03)

Thesis (LLM)--Stellenbosch University, 2015

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Universal jurisdiction is a relatively new concept in South Africa and a rather controversial concept in international criminal law. It is often discussed but rarely applied. Universal jurisdiction refers to the power of a State to punish certain crimes irrespective of where they were committed. Such crimes need not be connected to the State in question via the more traditional links of territory, nationality or direct State interest. These crimes are typically the worst crimes in international law such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The argument goes that those who commit these types of offences become hostis humani generis, or the enemies of all mankind. Therefore just like the pirate of old any nation that captures them is entitled to exercise its jurisdiction over them, on behalf of all mankind. But at the same time a feature and founding principle of international law is the sovereign equality of States. And under international law criminal jurisdiction is a prerogative of sovereign States. States have territorial jurisdiction over crimes committed within their territory, for having control over a territory is essentially what it means to be sovereign. This means that one nation’s attempt to exercise jurisdiction over persons that also fall under the jurisdiction of another nation could be perceived as the undermining of the second nation’s sovereignty. It is submitted that a proper understanding of universal jurisdiction internationally, and in South Africa, is vital because the Constitutional Court recently ordered South African authorities to investigate torture committed by Zimbabwean officials against Zimbabwean citizens that was allegedly committed in Zimbabwe. In other words the court ordered South African authorities to exercise universal jurisdiction over Zimbabwean officials. This thesis has as goal to critically examine the claims made, and authorities, cited in support of universal jurisdiction, as it is believed that these are usually theoretical and unpractical in nature. It is submitted that balance and a measure of realism is imperative to this debate. Contrary to popular opinion, it is submitted, that the history of international relations has not favored universal jurisdiction and there is no indication that this situation has fundamentally changed or will change in the near future. The thesis continues to examine, after a consideration of the likening of pirates to modern international criminals, the claim that old authorities such as Grotius and De Vattel provide support for universal jurisdiction. An analysis follows of the so-called ‘Lotus principle’, which is said to mean that any State may exercise jurisdiction over serious offences because there is no rule prohibiting it. The trials of German war criminals by the Allies, in the aftermath of WWII, is also said to have evidenced universal jurisdiction and this claim is critically examined. The same applies to the trial of Adolf Eichmann by Israel. The examination of provision for universal jurisdiction in international law continues when the jurisdictional provisions of the Genocide, War Crimes and Torture Conventions are examined and specifically applied to South Africa. The drafting process of these Conventions is carefully studied to understand the intention and circumstances prevalent at the time. In the process specific countries and international case law dealing with these Conventions is also considered. The jurisdictional triggers of the International Criminal Court are surveyed and it is questioned whether it provides for universal jurisdiction and whether it can then be said to support member States in exercising universal jurisdiction on its behalf. The research findings on universal jurisdiction and the ICC are finally applied to South Africa especially with reference to the Constitutional Court decision on the torture committed in Zimbabwe before conclusions are drawn as to what South Africa’s international and domestic duties entail.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Universele jurisdiksie is ‘n relatief nuwe konsep in Suid-Afrika en ‘n redelik kontroversiële konsep in internasionale strafreg. Dit word gereeld bespreek maar weinig toegepas. Universele jurisdiksie verwys na die bevoegdheid van ‘n Staat om sekere misdrywe te straf ongeag waar dit gepleeg is. Die betrokke Staat hoef nie enige van die traditionele verbindings soos territorialiteit, nationaliteit of direkte Staats-belang met sodanige misdrywe te hê nie. Hierdie misdade is tipies van die ergste misdade in internasionale reg, soos volksmoord, oorlogsmisdade en misdade teen die mensdom. Die argument is dat diegene wat hierdie tipe misdrywe pleeg hostis humanis generis, of vyande van die mensdom word. Daarom, net soos die seerower van ouds, is enige nasie, wat hulle in hegtenis neem geregtig om sy jurisdiksie, namens die ganse mensdom, oor hulle uit te oefen. Maar terselfde tyd is 'n kenmerk en grondbeginsel van internasionale reg die soewereine gelykheid van State. En onder internasionale reg is strafregtelike jurisdiksie 'n prerogatief van soewereine State. State het territoriale jurisdiksie oor misdade wat binne hul regsgebied gepleeg is, want om beheer oor 'n gebied uit te oefen is in wese wat soewerein wees behels. Dus kan een Staat se poging om jurisdiksie uit te oefen oor persone wat ook onder die jurisdiksie van 'n ander Staat val beskou word as die ondergrawing van die tweede Staat se soewereiniteit. Dit word aan die hand gedoen dat 'n behoorlike begrip van universele jurisdiksie, beide internasionaal, en in Suid-Afrika van uiterse belang is, veral omdat die Konstitionele Hof onlangs Suid-Afrikaanse owerhede beveel het dat marteling gepleeg in Zimbabwe, deur Zimbabwiese amptenare, teen Zimbabwiese burgers ondersoek moet word. Die hof het dus beveel dat die Suid-Afrikaanse owerhede universele jurisdiksie moet uitoefen oor Zimbabwiese amptenare. Hierdie tesis het ten doel om die gesag gewoonlik genoem, ter ondersteuning van universele jurisdiksie, krities te beskou, veral omdat dit gewoonlik teoreties en onprakties van aard blyk te wees. Hierdie tesis poog om ‘n noodsaaklike balans en mate van realisme tot die debat te voeg. Anders as wat algemeen aanvaar word ondersteun die geskiedenis van internasionale betrekkinge nie universele jurisdiksie nie en is daar ook geen aanduiding dat hierdie situasie onlangs fundamenteel verander het, of in die nabye toekoms sal verander nie. Die tesis beskou voorts, na 'n oorweging van die vergelyking van seerowers met moderne internasionale misdadigers, die bewering dat die ou skrywers soos De Groot en De Vattel hul steun verleen aan universele jurisdiksie. Hierna volg ‘n ontleding van die sogenaamde "Lotus beginsel", wat glo beteken dat enige Staat jurisdiksie mag uitoefen oor ernstige oortredings, bloot omdat daar geen reël is wat dit verbied nie. Die verhore van Duitse oorlogs misdadigers deur die Geallieerdes, na die Tweede Wêreldoorlog, word ook dikwels as bewys gebruik van universele jurisdiksie en word ook krities bekyk. Dieselfde geld vir die verhoor van Adolf Eichmann deur Israel. Die voorsiening gemaak vir universele jurisdiksie word verder ondersoek deur te let op die jurisdiksionele bepalings in die Konvensies oor volksmoord, oorlogsmisdade en marteling en dit word telkens op Suid-Afrika van toepassing gemaak. Daar word veral noukeurig gelet op die opstel proses van hierdie Konvensies ten einde te bepaal presies wat die bedoeling en heersende omstandighede toe was. In die proses word spesifieke lande en internasionale gesag wat met die Konvensies te make het oorweeg. Die Internasionale Strafhof, en of dit voorsiening vir universele jurisdiksie maak, word ondersoek ten einde te bepaal of dit enigsins gesê kan word dat die Hof lidstate aanmoedig om universele jurisdiksie te beoefen. Laastens word die bevindings oor universele jurisdiksie en die Internasionale Strafhof toegepas op Suid-Afrika, veral met verwysing na die Konstitusionele Hof beslissing oor die marteling in Zimbabwe, voordat gevolgtrekkings gemaak word oor wat presies Suid-Afrika se internasionale en plaaslike pligte behels.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97062
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