UN legal chief voices support for convention on criminal accountability

15 October 2007 –

Stressing that criminal conduct by personnel taking part in United Nations operations is unacceptable, the United Nations Legal Counsel today expressed support for a possible international convention that would address current jurisdictional gaps and hold perpetrators accountable.

“The United Nations Secretariat does not and cannot condone criminal conduct by its officials and experts on mission,” Nicolas Michel told the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which tackles legal matters.

Criminal conduct by UN personnel puts into question the core values of the Secretariat and directly affects the world body’s activities and “essential mission,” he said.

Although it concerns a very small minority of UN personnel, the problem is “significant,” he stated, adding that failure to prosecute offenders brings about perceptions of impunity, which would aggravate the negative effects that such incidents generate.

“The Secretariat sees the adoption of an international convention as a long-term measure to address the problem,” Mr. Michel said, noting that only Member States have the legal capacity to conduct criminal investigations and prosecute alleged offenders.

A group of legal experts working on the issue has proposed a convention requiring States to exercise jurisdiction when the alleged offender is one of their nationals or is in their territory and not being extradited. The convention would cover all crimes and all UN personnel, excluding military members of national contingents who are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the sending State.

The UN has pledged to hold all personnel serving with its operations to the highest standards of behaviour. It has imposed a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and exploitation in response to numerous allegations of misconduct by UN peacekeeping forces around the world.

Mr. Michel also drew attention to short-term measures that could be considered for adoption by Member States, including a resolution by the General Assembly which would strongly urge States to assert their criminal jurisdiction over their nationals alleged to have committed crimes while engaged in UN operations.

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