Investigations and prosecutions of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (known collectively as core international crimes) have steadily risen within the European Union since 2016. A total of 1,547 new cases were opened in 2021, compared with 1,073 in 2016, which represents a 44% increase. In 2021, 3,171 cases were ongoing across all Member States.
This trend can be attributed, in part, to the escalation of conflicts and grave human rights violations near EU borders (most recently in Ukraine, Belarus and Syria), leading to an influx of refugees into Member States. The higher level of expertise now available among national authorities also explains the increase in investigations.
These are some of the findings presented during the 7th EU Day Against Impunity for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, organised by the French Presidency of the Council, the European Commission, Eurojust and the Genocide Network. The event, which took place online on 23 May, was dedicated this year to the assessment of the 2014 Strategy of the EU Genocide Network. A recording of the event will be available soon on the Eurojust YouTube channel.
Eurojust President Mr Ladislav Hamran said:
‘The EU Day Against Impunity serves to remind us of core international crimes that so far have been left unanswered and to strengthen our collective efforts in getting justice done. It leads Eurojust to work with prosecutors and investigators in different corners of the world, who count on our partnership and support. This is the front line of justice, and a cornerstone in protecting the rule of law against core international crimes going unpunished.’
European Commission for Justice Mr Didier Reynders stated:
‘In the current situation, we must recognise that peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted. With “war”, often come “war crimes”, which violate the most fundamental laws of international order. We must defend these laws at any cost because the consequences for the victims, and humanity, are too grave to accept.’
In addition to European Commissioner Mr Reynders and Eurojust President Mr Hamran, the French Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. Luis Vassy, and a panel of expert practitioners from Member States and civil society participated in the event. Mr Matevž Pezdirc, Head of the Genocide Network Secretariat, moderated and closed the event.
Experience has shown that Member States that have established specialised investigative and prosecution units have been increasingly successful in bringing cases to trial and securing convictions for core international crimes. This is explained by the fact that specialised staff are uniquely trained to handle specific challenges of this crime area and able to act proactively in opening new cases.
However, the establishment of such specialised units remains limited. As of May 2022, only six Member States have established fully independent specialised units within prosecution services and/or law enforcement services.
In addition, national authorities face other challenges including legislative gaps that hinder the full prosecution of crimes, the exercise of extra-territorial (universal) jurisdiction, as well as international judicial cooperation or mutual legal assistance.
Eurojust and the Genocide Network support national authorities in their investigations and prosecutions of core international crimes. Together, they serve as a central hub for the exchange of information and expertise. Since the addition of core international crimes to Eurojust’s portfolio in 2019, the number of cases supported by the Agency has gradually increased. In 2021, Eurojust supported seven new cases, with nine ongoing cases from previous years, and one joint investigation team (JIT). As of May 2022, Eurojust has supported three JITs in relation to core international crimes.
The main achievements and shortcomings of the EU judicial response to core international crimes can be found in the report 20 years on: Main developments in the fight against impunity for core international crimes in the EU, published today by the Genocide Network Secretariat. A factsheet that outlines the key factors for successful investigations and prosecutions of core international crimes has also been published.
The EU Day Against Impunity is an annual event aiming to raise awareness of the most heinous crimes – the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This initiative promotes national investigations and prosecutions, recognises the common efforts of the EU and Member States in enforcing international criminal law, addresses the position and participation of victims in criminal proceedings for these crimes, and reinvigorates the Europe-wide commitment to the fight against impunity.
The ‘European Network of contact points in respect of persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes’ (the ‘Genocide Network’) was established by the Council of the EU in 2002 to ensure close cooperation between national authorities in investigating and prosecuting the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Genocide Network facilitates the exchange of information among practitioners, encourages cooperation between national authorities in different Member States, and provides a forum for sharing knowledge and best practices. The Genocide Network is supported in its work through its Secretariat, based at Eurojust in The Hague, the Netherlands.