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Schmahl, Robin F.C.

Universal Jurisdiction as Iustitia ex Machina

Speaking Justice for the Victims of ISIS and the Syrian Civil War in Germany

The Institute for a Greater Europe, Brussels, 2021

The Greater European Journal, 3, 1

p. 35-48

ISBN 2633-2051

This article offers a brief survey of four cases that were at the centre of public attention over the course of 2020 and 2021 in Germany. These cases dealt with ISIS foreign terrorist fighters [FTIs] and former Syrian officials who worked for the Syrian intelligence service and are relative to charges of genocide, torture, or crimes against humanity. The paper will sketch out the inherent importance of these cases for German public discourse as well as some underlying societal issues they touch upon. It will discuss how universal jurisdiction, which plays a crucial role for all four trials, transcended its technical function in international law and transformed into a concept with broader societal ramifications for the German public. I show how these trials can be understood as a form of Gegenwartsbewältigungthat purports a reaffirmation of German identity in the present. Lastly, the article will provide a brief problematisation of the trials’ legal basis and their public reception from a postcolonial perspective.


The article has already been finished by August 2021, though the publication of the journal was delayed. As such, I was not able to incorporate the latest developments in the discussed cases (mainly the verdict of Jan. 2022). However, the main argumentation still remains relevant.