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Anja Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009

Submitted by on 08/09/2009 – 5:25 pmNo Comment

Anja Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009 (ISBN-10: 0199569320; ISBN-13: 978-0199569328)

As part of covering relevant literature for our section of the blog featuring interesting new publications I have had the opportunity to review the book Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations by Anja Seibert-Fohr.

In the foreword to the book, Judge Thomas Buergenthal of the International Court of Justice notes accurately that the book provides a comprehensive description and insightful scholarly analysis of the applicable conventional and customary international legal obligations of States to prosecute the perpetrators of serious human rights violations. This book is the first to examine the duty to prosecute serious human rights violations on the basis of human rights treaties, respectively the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, a number of universal human rights conventions explicitly requiring prosecution, and last but not least the duty to prosecute under customary international law. The author analyses closely and skillfully a rapidly growing body of case law by relevant institutions in the field of human rights, focusing on the duty of States to prosecute and punish perpetrators of serious human rights violations.

With its extensive survey of the relevant human rights instruments and jurisprudence, ‘Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations’ provides a wealth of information and analysis for all those with an interest in this area of law. In Chapters 2, 3 and 4 Anja Seibert-Fohr identifies and critically examines the standards for the conduct of criminal proceedings developed respectively by the UN Human Rights Committee, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, providing thus a unique reference tool for both scholars and practitioners. Other universal human rights conventions explicitly requiring prosecution, dealt with in this book are the Convention Against Genocide, the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the Conventions on Slavery, Traffic in Persons, Exploitation of Prostitution and Apartheid, the Convention Against Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances (CCPED).

Is there an emerging individual right to demand punishment for serious human rights violations? Is the duty to prosecute a duty of conduct or one of result? These and other important questions facing persons working in the field of human rights are dealt with in an elegant and rigorous manner in this book. In Chapter 6 the author compares different approaches to prosecution and investigation in an effort to asses the duty incumbent upon States to prosecute and the rationale for that. By exploring the role criminal law plays in the protection of international human rights, the book helps understand not only the potential but also the limits of the role of human rights law within the international criminal justice system. The author has paid due attention also to the issue of amnesties and their impact on the duty to prosecute.

Chapter 7 deals with prosecution of human rights violations under customary international law. The author concludes that there is no comprehensive customary international obligation to prosecute serious human rights violations in general. While the trend shows an emerging rule of international law making the prosecution of serious human rights violations mandatory for those States in whose territory the violation was committed, that has not yet achieved the status of customary international law with regard to all serious human rights violations (p. 278). In other words, the fight against impunity is far from won. The author draws general conclusions in Chapter 8, focusing on key issues discussed throughout the book, namely the role of prosecution for the protection of human rights, amnesties and the way forward and the interrelationship between human rights and international criminal law.

This outstanding contribution to the existing literature on human rights can serve a large readership, including scholars and students in the field of human rights and criminal law, as well as practitioners, and NGO activists.

The book (hardback) can be ordered online through the Oxford University Press here (UK, 70 GBP) or here (USA, 155 USD).

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