How to avoid The Hague: UN’s most borrowed book is about war crime immunity

United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library. © Wikipedia
The UN Library has created a media storm by publishing information about its most borrowed book of 2015. Titled ‘Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes,’ the publication advises world leaders on how to literally get away with murder.

The Dag Hammarskjold Library, named after the former secretary general of the organization who died in 1961, tried to create a little bit of publicity for itself, by posting a tweet of the most borrowed book of 2015. However, the results proved to be both surprising and embarrassing for the library.

Top of the checkout list proved to be a doctoral thesis from the University of Lucerne by Ramona Pedretti, who wrote about whether heads of states can be charged with war crimes in foreign courts.

Her thesis concludes that leaders in power cannot be prosecuted while they are serving as the head of government, so the likes of Robert Mugabe or Bashar Assad would not be able to be prosecuted under US jurisdiction at present. However, once they step down, they can be charged by foreign courts.

She says there are two types of immunity that leaders can use in their defense under international law.

"Immunity ratione personae prevents incumbent heads of state from being subjected to foreign criminal jurisdiction," Pedretti writes, as cited by Vox. "In contrast, immunity ratione materiae protects official acts, i.e. acts performed in an official capacity on behalf of the State, from scrutiny by foreign courts."

The fallout on social media has largely been scathing. One user said, “this is somewhat disconcerting,” while another mentioned: “How those diplomats and their bosses can be held immune from prosecution for their crimes like parking tickets& owning sex slaves.”

Others could not really believe what they were reading: “I seriously just had to make sure that this wasn't a parody account. Holy smokes,” while another said this is not something to brag about.