After Approving Draft Resolution, Sixth Committee Hears Working Group Reports on International Terrorism, Universal Jurisdiction, Criminal Accountability

Prior to hearing oral reports of the Working Groups on Measures to eliminate international terrorism, Scope and application of universal criminal jurisdiction and Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on Mission, the Sixth Committee (Legal) today approved without a vote the draft resolution, Report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization.

By the text on the Special Charter Committee, the General Assembly would reiterate its call for voluntary contributions to the trust fund for the elimination of the backlog in the Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs. It would also note with concern that the backlog in the preparation of Volume III of the Repertory, although slightly reduced, has not been eliminated. It would then call upon the Secretary General to address that issue while commending him for progress made in reducing the backlog.

The representative of Sri Lanka, Chair of the Working Group on Measures to eliminate international terrorism, said that during the Group’s negotiations, attempts were made to resolve outstanding issues and overcome differences between delegations. Also addressed was the outstanding question of convening a high level conference, he said, observing that not only had the idea garnered wider support among Member States, but that some delegations were in the belief such a conference would help advance the process; as the differences in opinion over the draft convention were political in nature, they could only be resolved at that level. Emphasizing that outstanding issues had been discussed for over 18 years, he expressed his hope that a renewed intersessional effort would foster the ability and the will to overcome the differences that exist.

Costa Rica’s delegate, Chair of the Working Group on the Scope and Application of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction, said that during the Group’s meetings delegates provided information on the crimes to which universal jurisdiction would apply under their international law. However, no delegations gave examples in which universal jurisdiction had been the basis for jurisdiction in the prosecution of crimes in their country. Some delegations reiterated their general support for the usefulness of the Group, stating that the dialogue it enabled was part of the confidence building exercise which was key, given the impasse in its work. That impasse was partially due to the lack of agreement on the intended output of the Group, she said.

The representative of South Africa, Chair of the Working Group on Criminal accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Mission, said the Working Group had focused on several questions, including whether the criminal accountability of the United Nations officials and experts on mission should be addressed in the form of a convention. On the question of whether the discussion of a draft international convention was appropriate, he underscored that some delegates thought it was premature while others noted that it could best be addressed in the form of a General Assembly resolution.

The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 November to move to take action on four draft resolutions on the Report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law on the work of its fifty first session and take up its discussion of Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly.

Reports of Working Group

ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka), Chair of the Working Group on Measures to eliminate international terrorism, said that pursuant to the General Assembly resolution (document A/RES/72/123) of 7 December 2017, the Sixth Committee, on 3 October, decided to establish a working group with a view to finalizing the process on the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. The Working Group held three meetings. At its first meeting, it adopted its work programme and decided to hold discussions in the framework of informal consultations. Informal consultations were held on 16, 18 and 19 October and 1 November, he said.

The informal summary of the exchange of views is for reference only and is not an official record of the proceedings, he said. At the outset of the informal consultations, he presented the Working Group with a detailed overview of the work that had been undertaken over the years in the context of the Working Group and the Ad Hoc Committee. He also provided an update on the status of the negotiations regarding the outstanding issues surrounding the draft comprehensive convention, including the attempts made to overcome the differences among delegations.

He noted that at the same meeting, the Coordinator on outstanding issues, Angel Horna, presented an account of the intersessional efforts that occurred since the previous session. Among those efforts was the circulation of a non paper presented by the Coordinator on article 3 of the draft convention aimed at furthering discussions while taking into account some concerns raised by delegations at previous sessions. The Coordinator underscored that such a non paper was without prejudice to the common understanding that all proposals continued to be on the table and that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. The Coordinator also presented the rationale underlying his proposal, particularly on the added value of differentiating between without prejudice clauses and exclusions per se.

On questions concerning convening a high level conference, he said that the representative of Egypt, the sponsor delegation, recalled that its proposal to convene an international conference was no longer merely the proposal of Egypt but a common proposal of several Member States, including those of the Non Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Group. Egypt’s delegate reiterated his view that the differences in opinion concerning the draft comprehensive convention on terrorism were of a political nature and, therefore, they could only be resolved at that level. The conference would help advance the process.

At the outset of the Working Group’s session, he said he had called upon delegations to employ the time at their disposal for discussing the substance of the outstanding issues, rather than focusing solely on the procedural way forward. While the work of this year has been focused primarily on addressing the negotiating process, all actors � including himself, the Friends of the Chair and the Coordinator � have been encouraged by renewed intention expressed by delegations to negotiate in the intersessional period. The non paper circulated by the Coordinator achieved its purpose of encouraging States to further explore the means to achieve concrete discussions on difficult issues on which progress has remained elusive. For more than 18 years, these outstanding issues have been discussed. He expressed his hope that it is possible for a renewed intersessional effort to foster the ability and the will to overcome the differences that exist.

THABO MICHAEL MOLEFE (South Africa), Chair of the Working Group on Criminal accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Mission, said that, during their initial meetings on 10 and 15 October, the Working Group agreed to conduct its discussions in the framework of informal consultations while focusing these on three interrelated questions: whether the criminal accountability of the United Nations officials and experts on mission should be addressed in the form of a convention and, if so, which substantive issues a convention should cover and whether there are any matters that should be included in this year’s resolution to further enhance the mechanisms of accountability initially developed in General Assembly resolutions 62/63 and 63/119.

Delegations sought factual and analytical information, together with information on the processes and mechanisms in place to address criminal accountability in the United Nations, he said. There were questions on investigations and disciplinary measures taken against such United Nations officials and experts, measures to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation and assistance to victims of criminal conduct. As well, there were further questions on whether the territorial State would be informed of allegations that a crime may have been committed by United Nations officials or experts on mission as well as on waiving immunities.

Delegates were divided on the issue of whether and when it was the appropriate time to commence negotiations on a draft international convention relating to the issue, he continued. While some delegates reiterated their position that it was premature to commence such negotiations, others pointed out that this issue should be best addressed comprehensively in the form of a General Assembly resolution and not by means of a convention which is subject to ratification by Member States. He noted the existence of jurisdictional gaps, adding that short term measures embodied in resolutions on the topic had been set out since the session of the General Assembly and had yet to adequately address the problem.

On substance issues possibly covered in a convention, he pointed to the provisions of Member States in their domestic laws to establish jurisdiction over crimes committed abroad, while stressing the need for harmonization. Noting that the active personality principle and the double criminality principle could be included in a convention, some delegates advocated for some forms of intersessional activity while emphasizing the need to identify barriers to commencement of prosecution in some States. Turning to the practical aspects that could enhance accountability measures as well as relevant empirical data, he said that this will allow a more informed discussion of the issues the Group of Legal Experts raised in its report. He stressed his commitment to ensure that there is no impunity for criminal activity committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission.

SHARA DUNCAN VILLALOBOS (Costa Rica), Chair of the Working Group on the Scope and Application of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction, noted that the Group had before it the Secretary General’s relevant reports from 2010 to 2017. The Group also had before it the informal paper which contained agreements on the methodology as well as an enumeration of issues for discussion, commonly referred to as the Roadmap.

Recalling the Group’s meetings, which were held on 11 and 17 October, she said that at the first meeting, she invited delegates to address three questions: What crimes are subject to prosecution on the basis of universal jurisdiction under your country’s national laws?; what are the conditions, if any, to the applicability of universal jurisdiction for such crimes?; and what are the instances, if any, in which universal jurisdiction has been the basis of jurisdiction in the prosecution of crimes in your country?

Several delegations provided information on the crimes to which universal jurisdiction would apply under their national law, and, in some cases, the conditions for such applications, she continued. Among the delegations that provided information with respect to the third question, none provided an instance in which universal jurisdiction had been the basis for jurisdiction in the prosecution of crimes in that delegation’s country. The exchange demonstrated the diversity of views as well as possible areas of convergence. It essentially tracked the information that Governments have provided as reflected in the various reports of the Secretary General on the subject. However, one delegation questioned the relevance of the discussion, given that, in that delegation’s view, universal jurisdiction as a concept did not enjoy consensus.

At the Group’s second meeting, some delegations shared their views on the decision taken by the International Law Commission to put the topic of Universal criminal jurisdiction on its long term programme of work and the potential implications of that decision on the consideration of the present item, she said. Certain delegations noted that the inclusion did not necessarily mean that the Commission would work on the topic, while one delegation noted a potential distinction between the topic as formulated by the Commission and the present item. During the discussions, delegations remained divided and there was no consensus on the issue. Some voiced support not only for the decision of the Commission, but also for the Commission to start considering it. Others suggested that the Commission’s work could be limited to considering certain technical questions relevant to the scope and application of the principle, while still other delegations maintained that consideration of the topic by the Commission was premature.

The Working Group also considered the related question of how to proceed with the item in the Sixth Committee at future sessions of the General Assembly, she said. While some support was expressed for the rationalization of the work of the Assembly, which would lead to the consideration by the Sixth Committee of the item biennially and/or in the establishment of the Working Group biennially, a number of delegations expressed the view that the topic should continue to be considered annually and the yearly establishment of the Working Group should remain unchanged.

Some delegations also reiterated general support for the usefulness of the Group, noting that such dialogue was part of the confidence building exercise that could be seen as central to the work of the Working Group, she noted. I believe that it is fair to say that there is a certain impasse in our work, she said, adding that while it is partly linked to the lack of agreement on the intended output of the Group, the impasse may well be unavoidable, given the lack of agreement on the issues that have informed the Roadmap. Urging interested delegations to use the intersessional period to consult with each other with the aim of identifying the potential outcome of the Working Group, she expressed her commitment to working closely on the matter.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Committee took action on the draft resolution, Report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization (document A/C.6/73/L.10). That text was adopted without a vote. (For background see Press Release GA/L/3573).

Source: United Nations