The Scope of Military Jurisdiction for Violations of International Humanitarian Law

The Drumhead Court Martial John Pettie (1839–1893) | Photo credit: Museums Sheffield

Claire Simmons, PhD Candidate in Law at the University of Essex, published a new article in the Israel Law Review, titled ‘The Scope of Military Jurisdiction for Violations of International Humanitarian Law’.

With the adequacy of military jurisdiction over violations of international law being questioned in certain spheres, the article explores the role and limits of military jurisdiction in combating impunity for violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the body of law which regulates situations of armed conflict.

The article demonstrates that that the unique context of armed conflict and military operations can provide important reasons to retain and strengthen military justice systems to combat impunity for certain violations of IHL, especially to suppress non-criminal or administrative violations.

For jurisdiction over criminal offences (including war crimes), the adequacy of military or civilian systems will depend on domestic, regional, and international factors which are difficult to generalise. Increased scrutiny under international human rights law into the impact of these justice systems on the rights of individuals has led to restrictions on the format and scope of military jurisdiction, yet States have implemented these obligations in different ways at a domestic level. What is clear in all cases is that the systems of justice used must respect international standards of fair trial and general principles of justice.

There is a need to continue the discussion on the adequacy of military justice in combating impunity for violations of international law. Claire Simmons’ article highlights the importance for such debates to address State obligations in a holistic manner, including by recognising the applicability of different bodies of international law, differences in domestic legal systems, and applicable legislation in times of both peace and war. Such a holistic approach is crucial to promoting accountability under international law while protecting the rights of both those accused of offences as well as those affected by violations in armed conflict.

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