In the public interest: accountability of the state and the prosecution of crimes

Research strand coordinator: Dr Christophe Paulussen

This research strand will examine i) the accountability of states - individually and collectively (for instance at the level of the United Nations or the European Union) - in light of public interest standards in the context of counter-terrorism; and ii) the prosecution of individuals for international and transnational crimes in the public interest. Moreover, to ensure both the accountability of the state and the prosecution of individuals, this strand will also investigate iii) the role of journalists, the (new) media, human rights NGOs and academics in protecting and promoting public interest standards.

Researchers

Visiting fellows

Interns

Research themes
State action finds legitimacy in its representation of (the interests of) the public. Governments often justify their actions by invoking public interests. Public prosecution of transnational crimes, such as terrorism, and international crimes, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, finds legitimacy in the protection of public interests. Adoption by some states of contemporary counter-terrorism measures (such as deprivation of nationality or the policy not to repatriate foreign fighters and their families detained in camps in North East Syria) are often justified as being in service of ‘the public interest’, in casu national security. That also holds for the repression in other states of critical actors with dissenting opinions on state-forged societal narratives (such as human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents, minority groups and academics). While measures and policies may on the one hand be taken to pursue one (understanding of a) public interest, they may violate public interests as articulated as/in international (human rights) law and the rule of law, and hence merit scrutiny. 

In the coming years, this research strand will examine the responses of states – individually and collectively – to alleged terrorists and suspects of international and transnational crimes; as well as those to a very different category, viz. of critical societal actors such as journalists. It will investigate the justifications for these responses, the role and meaning of (the) public interest(s) in these justifications, and assess these responses’ compatibility with international (human rights) law and the rule of law. It will be guided by the following three research lines:

  1. The accountability of states – individually and collectively – in the light of public interest standards in the context of counter-terrorism. Public interest justifications of counter-terrorism measures and policies, in particular national security, will be critically examined against public interest standards, such as international (human rights) law and the rule of law. Broader questions of the measures’ effectiveness, for instance in terms of protecting national security in the long run, will also be addressed. A specific focus area will be the context of the post 9/11 hyper-securitisation, with its significant expansion of surveillance tools and resulting digitalisation of individual identities.
  2. The prosecution of individuals for international and transnational crimes in the public interest. Sub-questions falling under this research line include how states can bring suspects of international and transnational crimes to justice in a way that comports with public interest standards of international (human rights) law and the rule of law, while at the same time critically questioning the references to public interest as a justification to legitimise overzealous prosecutions. The research strand will also focus more on the implications of new technology and artificial intelligence for traditional criminal law concepts and the establishment of criminal responsibility. It will expand its research focus to include study of criminal responsibility for the degradation of the world’s environment, either via international criminal law (ecocide) or transnational criminal law.
  3. The role of journalists, the (new) media, human rights NGOs and academics in protecting and promoting public interest standards. This research line will encompass sub-questions of how societal actors can assist in for instance monitoring violations and thus help in bringing both states to accountability and individuals to justice, but also how crimes against journalists and disinformation can be tackled.

We will continue to combine critical reflection with input from and relevance to practice. Our work is supported by a number of multi-annual projects, including:

Moreover, this research strand will continue and expand its valorisation activities that has brought it the reputation as a go-to place for topical research and policy discussions on contemporary issues; through its lectures series, summer programmes, masterclasses, freely accessible databases, inter-university networks and commentary in the (inter)national media.

Asser Nexus on conflict and crime
Check out the Asser Nexus on Conflict and Crime, which brings together information about the work of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in the field of conflict and crime. Find all information about the interconnected fields of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Criminal Law (ICL), Transnational Criminal Law (TCL) and Legal Aspects of Countering Terrorism (LACT).