International Standards for
Sentencing and Punishment
Decisions about sentencing and punishment of criminal offenders and issues of substantive criminal law more generally, have traditionally been within the sovereignty of each nation state. This is not true anymore. International standards for criminal justice are common and cover areas that have no international dimension.
International standards or limits for domestic criminal justice systems are often located in general human rights instruments and discussed under “international human rights law,” which regulates states' responsibility toward their own citizens (Ratner 1998). “International criminal law” is usually defined to include treatybased cooperation in police investigation and transfer of offenders, procedures, and prisoners; treaty-based regulation of transnational or transborder crime; and control and prosecution of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity (Dugard and van den Wyngaert 1996).
Several United Nations conventions and all regional human rights conventions include articles about core areas of criminal law: criminal investigation, procedural requirements for charges and criminal trials, limits on criminalization and punishment, and standards for implementation of punishments. Aspects of arrest, other police powers, pretrial detention, fair trial or due process requirements, prohibited forms of punishments, and prison conditions, for example, are regulated internationally, although forms of regulation, control measures, enforcement systems, and their efficiency vary. The main human rights instruments that include criminal justice standards are the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN), the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Council of Europe), the American Convention on Human Rights (Organization of American States), the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Organization of African Unity), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UN) and the European Conven