The paper inquires, from a comparative (Canadian-German) and human rights perspective, whether the State’s right (or even obligation) to punish can be derived from the Constitution. It argues that Constitutions usually assume this right but do not explicitly provide, let alone explain it (infra 1). However, protective (affirmative) duties may be derived from the rights part of a constitution (2) and these protective duties may serve as a basis for criminalization (3). While this is the position of the case law (especially the German one) and finds support in human rights law (4), it is argued that the reasoning is not fully convincing (5.1) and therefore further reflections are needed (5). First, it is necessary to make explicit the basic assumptions on the role of constitutions and judges on which the acceptance of a (constitutional) ius puniendi is predicated (5.1). Then, in a second step, the combination of a victim-based and effective remedy reasoning which best supports an obligation or at least ius puniendi is, relying on the German discussion, to be elaborated further (5.2).
Corresponding author: Kai Ambos, Professor, Georg August Universität Göttingen, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5, 37073 Göttingen, Germany; and Judge Kosovo Specialist Chambers, Hague, the Netherlands, E-mail: