Volume 52
Issue 1
Fall '20

Accountability in a Time of War: Universal Jurisdiction and the Strive for Justice in Syria

Written By: Jessica Doumit


In April 2020, the first criminal trial against Syrian state torture began in a German Higher Regional Court, marking a critical point for justice efforts related to the ongoing Syrian war. This trial is one of the many cases and investigations being brought forth under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction. This Note broadly examines 100 universal jurisdiction cases, collected by three non-governmental organizations, related to crimes committed during the Syrian conflict. By surveying these cases and the charges brought forth, this Note aims to assess these cases’ impact and role in accountability for Syria. This Note argues that the universal jurisdiction cases and the push for criminal accountability are helping to keep the prospect of justice “alive” in Syria. While universal jurisdiction is merely one small part of the transitional justice process and faces problems such as creating too much “false hope” among victims, the Syrian-led efforts and documentation can create pressure to continue justice efforts and ensure accountability in a post-conflict Syria. Other academic papers may have addressed universal jurisdiction in relation to Syria, but this Note’s analysis focuses on integrating the voices of Syrian and Arab scholars, activists, and lawyers to ensure local experts are better represented in the legal and academic sphere.

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