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France ministers propose new judicial unit for war crimes, genocide

[JURIST] French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie [official profile] and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner [official profile] on Wednesday announced plans to create a special judicial service to investigate and charge individuals accused of crimes against humanity and genocide in France or in other countries. The new judicial unit [Le Monde report, in French] would streamline the prosecution of Rwandans living in France who are accused of war crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan conflict [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive]. Alliot-Marie and Kouchner said in their joint statement [press release]:

Today, the judicial treatment of genocide and crimes against humanity encounters a number of specific difficulties. The offenses in question take place beyond our borders. The lack of coordination of the data, evidence and witness statements complicates the task of investigators and judges. The technical nature of the matters involved necessitates special high-level skills. The complexity of the litigation inevitably slows down the proceedings. The increase in the number of unresolved cases, particularly those of more than 15 Rwandans awaiting trial, is spurring us to act fast.

The proposal is part of a bill that will be considered in Parliament during the first half of this year.

Under French law, there must be a connection between France and the alleged crime in order to prosecute individuals in the French justice system. This stands in contrast to the theory of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] used in several other countries, including the UK. Earlier this week, foreign relations between Israel and the UK further deteriorated [JURIST report] as a result of several British arrest warrants charging senior Israeli politicians and military officers of war crimes. In October, Spain, which has exercised universal jurisdiction to indict such individuals as Osama bin Laden and Augusto Pinochet, passed a law limiting the reach [JURIST report] of its universal jurisdiction statute to those offenses committed by or against Spaniards, or where the perpetrators are in Spain. This limitation led to criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups that support the broad use of universal jurisdiction against accused war criminals.

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