Who knew that the International Criminal Court doesn’t operate on the basis of universal jurisdiction? Yet this is what chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared earlier this month. This is how he justified not acting on a request by the Palestinian Authority to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel. Instead, Moreno-Ocampo said, the ICC will await a determination of statehood by the United Nations. International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, immediately charged political bias.
Most importantly, the incident reveals a crucial and ongoing gap in international law: the 12 million or so stateless people that, according to the UNHCR, live in every region of the world and yet remain invisible. It’s no wonder stateless people resort to universal jurisdiction—absent open, legal spaces where they can pursue justice and claim their internationally recognized human rights. What would we expect from people with grievances, real or imagined, who are denied access to national and international tribunals?
Universal jurisdiction in foreign courts, for all its imperfections, gives legal haven to those whose national identities remain unbounded by statehood.