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ERC Advanced grant for research on improving the domestic prosecution of international crimes

Published: 26th April 2022 Last updated: 26th April 2022

The European Research Council of the EU has awarded an ERC Advanced research grant of 2,3 million euros to Prof. of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Elies van Sliedregt of Tilburg University. She will develop parameters for a coordinated system of global justice at the domestic level. The prosecution of foreign nationals who have committed international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide) outside the territory of the forum state (the state that tries these crimes), is the focus of the project.

While the project’s focus is on international criminal law (ICL), international refugee law (IRL) is the starting point; it is the metaphorical canary in the coal mine that flags up questions at the heart of ICL, according to Van Sliedregt. Many of the domestic prosecutions of international crimes  are asylum and migration related and call for a joined up and coordinated system of justice where there is a clear focus on who should be prosecuted. To date, no such system exists.

This comes with problems . First, article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention, the so-called exclusion clause, stipulates that those who are suspected of having committed international crimes are undeserving of protection and should be prosecuted. But there is no uniform understanding of ‘undeserving’. At the same time, ICL lacks an overarching policy of who is 'deserving' of prosecution. Many excluded asylum claimants remain unprosecuted and exist in a legal limbo.

Prof. Elies van Sliedregt

Second, asylum related prosecutions have a distorting effect. It comes with a focus on low-level and ‘low cost’ defendants (from weak countries).

Third, ad hoc prosecutorial decision-making premised on asylum applications hampers developing a long-term approach to the enforcement of international criminal law.

Through empirical research in eight countries and comprehensive case-analysis the project will, among other things, map who is ‘deserving’ of prosecution. It will also clarify the scope of ‘undeserving’ and draw the line between criminal complicity and noncriminal association, addressing the ICL-IRL mismatch that leaves many in limbo. It will result in a proposal for an inter-state system of ‘jurisdiction designation’ based on subsidiarity and burden-sharing plus a settlement proposal premised on a ‘right to start again’. The project’s ambition, scope and methodology will lead to a step change in international criminal justice where the future is domestic.

“I am delighted to be given the opportunity to carry out this project," says Van Sliedregt. "The project is timely with everything that is happening in Ukraine. More than ever do we need a robust justice system and legal infrastructure to hold those accountable who have committed international crimes.”

ERC Advanced grant

ERC Advanced grants are awarded to established researchers to support pursuing a ground-breaking, high-risk project. This 5 year project, entitled Building a Global Criminal Justice System at the Domestic Level (acronym: JOINEDUPJUSTICE), will receive a budget of €2,332,184 of which Tilburg University will receive € 2,299,684.

Note to editors

For more information please contact Prof. Elies van Sliedregt at tel. +31 13 466 8074 / e-mail e.vansliedregt@tilburguniversity.edu.