Modern international law takes as a fundamental value the condemnation and redress of certain categories of heinous conduct, such as genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity. Recognizing the need to end impunity for those crimes, international law permits a state, by the principle of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute them even when they take place outside its territory and do not involve its nationals.
In virtually all domestic legal systems, an individual who engages in wrongful conduct causing personal inj ury or death will be subject not only to criminal prosecution, but to a civil action by the injured party. Yet, though the principle of universal jurisdiction is well established in the criminal sphere, it is still regarded as novel in the civil context.
Recent developments—most notably the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain—will cause greater examination of the function and scope of universal jurisdiction as authorization for national courts to hear civil claims based on heinous conduct proscribed by international law. We here consider whether a civil dimension of universal jurisdiction has emerged, whether it should correspond to the criminal dimension, and whether its use as a basis of jurisdiction should depend on the absence of effective remedies in jurisdictions with traditional links to the proscribed conduct.