The extradition of Rwandan General Karake was halted this week when the European Arrest Warrant for him was dismissed – Michael Caplan QC examines the issues thrown up by this case and the complex world of universal jurisdiction.


General Karenzi Karake, Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Services and a member of the country’s governing party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, was detained at Heathrow Airport on 20th June. He appeared before City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 25th June. He was the subject of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Spanish authorities.  A Spanish national judge, Fernando Andreu, brought charges against Mr. Karake in 2008 on accusations arising from orders given while head of military intelligence in the wake of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. He was on an official visit to London to meet with UK intelligence service. 

EAW discharged

A full extradition hearing was due to be held on 29th and 30th October but on 10th August the European Arrest Warrant was discharged.  Senior District Judge Howard Riddle dismissed the arrest warrant on the basis that in accordance with the findings of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the allegations were beyond the jurisdiction of the UK. 

Media reports quote a CPS spokesperson: “After careful consideration we do not believe an extradition offence can be established under UK law. The main reason is that the relevant laws on the conduct alleged in this case do not cover the acts of non-UK nationals or residents abroad."  Under the principle of dual criminality, any request must be an offence in this country as well as in the requesting state. In this case, it appears that the CPS was not satisfied that it would be possible to establish that the offence which Gen Karake was accused of would be an offence in this country: the UK Genocide Act 1969 criminalises genocide committed in the UK only. The International Criminal Court Act 2001 extended jurisdiction to cover British nationals or residents for genocide overseas after 2001 but there is still no jurisdiction over non-British citizens.

How universal is universal jurisdiction?

This case shines a light on the complexities of universal jurisdiction. Whilst it may be thought that the principle of universal jurisdiction means that the UK provides “no safe haven” for those accused of the world’s most heinous crimes, in fact, the principle has not been implemented to its full extent. Peculiarities in the way in which the various international conventions have been implemented mean, for example, that whilst it is possible to prosecute a non-UK resident for alleged offences committed in another jurisdiction of torture, hostage-taking or war crimes in international armed conflicts, the same non-UK resident could not be prosecuted for alleged offences of genocide, war crimes in internal armed conflicts and crimes against humanity committed abroad. These anomalies in the implementation of universal jurisdiction do have practical consequences – as demonstrated by the case of Gen Karake.