Based on culture or religion, some nations may have different crimes or definitions of crime. How can this be reconciled to have an international standard to measure crime? Is it even necessary to do so?
This discussion brings up the notion of sovereignty. I believe that every nation has the responsibility to protect its citizens through local laws and democratic processes. As a result, certain values and ethics are highlighted within broader communities, contributing to differing laws from one country to another.
An Example of Local Laws
For example, the legal drinking age in South Africa is 18 years old. Technically speaking, failure to comply with these rules and regulations can lead to R1,000,000 (approximately $54,317) fine or up to five years behind bars, and establishments that sell alcohol to minors risk losing their liquor licenses.
However, these penalties are reserved for the most serious offenders and are seldom exercised (Law 101, 2021). Unfortunately, South Africa has a heavy drinking culture, and lobby groups are putting pressure on the government to raise the legal drinking age to 21 (World Health Organization, 2018).
In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21 years old. If caught purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcohol while underage, it is normally a misdemeanor criminal offense. Punishment may include fines, attending alcohol counseling or classes, performing hours of community service, and getting a driver’s license revocation. Some believe that lowering the legal drinking age to 18 will reduce the number of offenders (Griggs, 2015).
I do not aim to argue which drinking age is more effective in preventing alcohol abuse or related tragedies, but only to show the existing law of each country and how the talk of change is based on the social culture.
Do We Need to Reconcile These Laws?
In this instance, I do not think it is necessary to reconcile these laws to meet an international standard, as the drinking age in South Africa has little to no effect on the citizens of the United States (or vice versa). It is the responsibility of the national government and lawmakers to make democratically-founded decisions that serve the best interest of their citizens (based on culture and religion, among other factors).
This argument may take a different direction when considering non-democratic countries where the voices of the people are not always heard, and there is the risk of damaging authoritarian rule.
Holding Certain Laws to an International Standard
However, there are certain laws that I do believe should be held to an international standard. In particular, customary international laws and customary international humanitarian laws are important to consider as the world becomes increasingly globalized and different cultures and religions share the same space.
These laws, such as the principle of non-refoulment, are fundamental to preserving human life, help to regulate transnational organized crime, and recognize the basic rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings (Jensen, 2016).
As the world becomes increasingly globalized, these laws help protect citizens and regulate crime when local laws are ineffective or irrelevant.
- Griggs, B. (January 4, 2015). Should the U.S. lower its drinking age? CNN. Retrieved on 16 March 2023 from https://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/16/us/legal-drinking-age/index.html
- Jenson, E. (2016). Introduction to the Laws of Kurdistan, Iraq: Working Paper Series, Transnational Criminal Law. Standford Law School and the American University of Iraq Sulaimani. Retrieved on 16 March 2023 from https://law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ILEI-Transnational-Crim-Law-2016.pdf
- Law 101. (July 5, 2021). What is the law on underage drinking? Retrieved on 16 March 2023 from https://law101.org.za/what-is-the-law-on-underage-drinking/
- World Health Organization. (2018). Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. Retrieved on 16 March 2023 from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/274603/9789241565639-eng.pdf