The United Nations Principles to Combat Impunity: A Commentary

Started in January 2013

Beginning with the post-World War II Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and gaining momentum since the 1990s, a global anti-impunity discourse has increasingly shaped international law and practice. This marks a shift away from the traditional practice of amnesty towards holding individuals accountable for international crimes.

The United Nations Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity (UN Principles) can be seen as a reflection of this global anti-impunity movement. Originally drafted by Louis Joinet and updated by Diane Orentlicher in 2005, the UN Principles are today widely accepted as constituting an authoritative reference point for efforts in the fight against impunity for gross human rights and serious international humanitarian law violations.

As a comprehensive attempt to ‘codify’ universal accountability norms, the UN Principles marked a significant step forward in the debate on the obligation of states to combat impunity in its various forms. Despite this significance, no comprehensive academic commentary of the 38 principles has yet been provided so far. This project seeks to fill this gap. It aims to provide a companion to the document, setting out the text of the UN Principles and their detailed commentaries, with a full introduction and guide to the relevant literature and case law.

The outcome of the project, launched in 2013, will be an academic publication. To ensure high quality, the project is being implemented through the commission of contributions from established experts in the various fields touched upon by the UN Principles. The project intends to adopt an integrated approach, offering a comprehensive vision of the various impunity principles and their relationships.

The volume, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2017, is being prepared under the editorship of Frank Haldemann and Thomas Unger, in collaboration with Valentina Cadelo.


Picture of Frank Haldemann

Frank Haldemann

Co-Director of the Master in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Frank Haldemann's expertise and research focus on transitional justice, human rights and legal philosophy.

Picture of Thomas Unger

Thomas Unger

Researcher and Co-Director of the Master in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Thomas Unger has more than 15 year of expertise in the field of transitional justice, notably as the former Senior Adviser to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.



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