An imperial beast of different species or international justice? : universal jurisdiction and the African Union’s opposition


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This dissertation is a deconstruction of the African Union’s (AU) current opposition to the increasing expansion in universal jurisdiction’s scope and attempts by some Western states to prosecute some government officials of AU member states in exercise of this principle. In seeking to understand the AU’s opposition, the dissertation examines both the doctrinal basis for this “new” universal jurisdiction claim, as well as the politics and the political implications of this development, particularly on conflicts resolution in Africa. On the first question, it finds that the legal basis for the doctrine’s expansion is, at best, indeterminate and, at worst, nonexistence.On the second, it contends that: (1) the current AU’s opposition is a reflection of the broader climate of suspicion that has often clouded the relationship between the African region and the West, on one hand, and between the African region and international law, on the other hand – suspicion created by colonialism and exacerbate by the complicity of international law in the colonial project; (2) a critical examination of the praxis of universal jurisdiction reveals both the politics of exclusion of Third World states and a striking similarity between the principle and the doctrinal technologies employed by the positivist international law in the nineteenth and part of the twentieth centuries to legitimize colonialism; and (3) the inability of states exercising universal jurisdiction to consider the political consequences of their actions could undermine such indigenous approaches that can successfully facilitate conflicts resolution in Africa, such as peace deals and post-conflict truth commissions. In conclusion, therefore, the dissertation argues that one of the lessons to be learnt from this confrontation is that for any international human rights enforcement approach or mechanism to be effective, it must be accepted by states, particularly those who are most likely to be directly impacted by it – in this case the Third World. For this reason, the AU’s apprehension concerning the ongoing expansion of universal jurisdiction must not be dismissed. This, it is hoped, would ensure the stability of the international system and reduce the current North/South divide on the important issue of criminal enforcement.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada




Law, Peter A. Allard School of