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Sixty-sixth session

Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission (Agenda item 78)

Summary of work

Background (source: A/66/100)

At its sixty-first session, in 2006, the General Assembly decided that the agenda item entitled “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”, which had been allocated to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), should also be referred to the Sixth Committee for discussion of the report of the Group of Legal Experts on ensuring the accountability of United Nations staff and experts on mission with respect to criminal acts committed in peacekeeping operations (see A/60/980), submitted pursuant to Assembly resolutions 59/300 and 60/263 and decision 60/563 (decision 61/503 A).
At the same session, the General Assembly decided to establish an Ad Hoc Committee, open to all States Members of the United Nations or members of specialized agencies or of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for the purpose of considering the report of the Group of Legal Experts, in particular its legal aspects (resolution 61/29). The Ad Hoc Committee held two sessions at United Nations Headquarters in New York, from 9 to 13 April 2007 and from 7 to 9 and on 11 April 2008.
The General Assembly considered the item at its sixty-second to sixty-fourth sessions (resolutions 62/63, 63/119 and 64/110).
At its sixty-fifth session, the General Assembly reaffirmed the various measures envisaged in its resolutions 62/63, 63/119 and 64/110, aiming, in particular, to eliminate potential jurisdictional gaps and enhance international cooperation among States, and between States and the United Nations, to ensure the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission; urged States to provide to the Secretary-General, at the appropriate time, information on their handling of the credible allegations brought to their attention by the Secretary-General in accordance with paragraph 9 of resolution 65/20; reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to report to the Assembly at its sixty-sixth session on the implementation of resolution 65/20; and also reiterated its decision, taken in resolution 64/110, that the consideration of the report of the Group of Legal Experts (A/60/980), in particular its legal aspects, taking into account the views of Member States and the information contained in the note by the Secretariat (A/62/329), shall be continued during its sixty-seventh session in the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee (resolution 65/20).

Consideration at the sixty-sixth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 9th, 27th and 29th meetings, respectively on 7 October and on 2 and 9 November 2011 (see A/C.6/66/SR.9, 27 and 29).  For its consideration of the item, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission (A/66/174 and Add.1).

Statements were made by the representatives of: New Zealand (also on behalf Canada and Australia), Iran (Islamic Republic of) (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Kenya (on behalf of the African Group), Egypt, Switzerland, Norway, Colombia, India, the Republic of Korea, El Salvador, the Russian Federation, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, Israel, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, Trinidad and Tobago, the Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

In their general comments, most delegations underlined the imperative to guard against impunity and the need to ensure that all United Nations personnel perform their functions in a manner that is consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and preserves the image, credibility, impartiality and integrity of the Organization.  In this regard, they reiterated their support for the zero tolerance policy of the United Nations, particularly in respect of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Concern was also expressed that, despite the attention drawn to the subject in recent years, there were continuing allegations that undermined the work, image and credibility of the United Nations.  Some delegations underlined the need for the observance of the rule of law in the implementation of the Organization’s zero tolerance policy.

Concerning the establishment of criminal jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission, most delegations noted that, although there had been progress on the matter, more needed to be done to ensure criminal accountability.  Some delegations encouraged States to take the necessary steps to prosecute their nationals for any offence committed while on mission, if necessary by adapting their national legislation to include the active personality principle.

Delegations generally welcomed the recent referrals by the Organization of cases of alleged criminal conduct to the State of nationality of the official or expert on mission concerned, for investigation and possible prosecution, and urged States to report back to the United Nations.  In particular, a number of delegations called upon States to report on efforts taken to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute their nationals for committing crimes of a serious nature while serving as United Nations officials or experts on mission.  Regret was expressed that few responses had been received from the States concerned on how credible allegations had been handled by their domestic authorities.

Most delegations emphasized the importance of strengthening cooperation among States, as well as between States and the United Nations, particularly with respect to extradition and mutual assistance in matters such as investigations, exchange of information, collection of evidence, execution of sentences and forfeiture of property identified as unlawfully acquired.  Some delegations observed that immunities should be waived if they would impede the course of justice, and it was also suggested that criteria for waiver of immunities be further developed.

Highlighting the significance of preventive approaches, most delegations commended the Organization’s efforts in the pre-deployment and in-mission training of peackekeeping personnel.

The need to address the concerns of victims was generally stressed by delegations.  In this regard, some delegations recalled the adoption of the United Nations Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by the United Nations staff and related personnel (General Assembly resolution 62/214).  It was observed that the Secretary-General should continue his efforts to ensure protection against possible retaliation for United Nations officials who report misconduct by other United Nations officials or experts on mission.  The importance of providing adequate remedies to United Nations personnel against whom unfounded allegations would have been made was also stressed.

On the reporting obligations of the Secretary-General under the relevant General Assembly resolutions, most delegations welcomed the latest report of the Secretary-General (A/66/174 and Add.1) which included, inter alia, relevant information provided by Governments on jurisdictional issues as well as information on cases that had been referred by the Organization to the State of nationality of the alleged perpetrators.  Some delegations stressed the need for additional information from the Secretariat on existing reporting and tracking mechanisms, criteria for categorizing serious misconduct and statistics about substantiated allegations, including an estimate of possibly unreported cases.  A suggestion was made that the Secretary-General’s reporting system be improved by providing more detailed information on each case referred to the State of nationality of an alleged offender.

Regarding future follow-up action, most delegations looked forward to further discussion of the report of the Group of Legal Experts (A/60/980) at the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, in 2012.  Some delegations called for the full implementation of the resolutions adopted so far by the General Assembly on this item.  Different views were expressed concerning the possible elaboration of a convention to ensure the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.  Some delegations expressed support for such a convention, and a suggestion was made that the convention also cover military personnel.  Other delegations considered that it was still premature to discuss a draft convention.  The view was also expressed that such a step would require careful consideration.  According to another opinion, a convention was not needed, since the problem could be effectively addressed through the adoption of appropriate domestic legislation.  Furthermore, it was considered doubtful whether a convention would be the most efficient and practical way of addressing the issues at stake.

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 27th meeting, on 2 November 2011, the representative of Greece introduced, on behalf of the Bureau, a draft resolution entitled “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (A/C.6/66/L.16).  At the 29th meeting, on 9 November 2011, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/66/L.16 without a vote.  At the same meeting, the representative of Switzerland spoke in explanation of position after the adoption of the draft resolution (see A/C.6/66/SR.29).

The draft resolution, which continued to build upon previous General Assembly resolutions, namely resolutions 62/63 of 6 December 200, 63/119 of 11 December 2008, 64/110 of 16 December 2009 and 65/20 of 6 December 2010, included a number of elements aimed, in particular, at eliminating potential jurisdictional gaps and at enhancing international cooperation between States, and between States and the United Nations, to ensure the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.  Under the draft resolution, the Assembly would recall once again its decision, taken in resolution 64/110, that the consideration of the report of the Group of Legal Experts, in particular its legal aspects, taking into account the views of Member States and the information contained in the note by the Secretariat, would be continued during its sixty-seventh session, in 2012, in the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee.  In this connection, Member States would be invited to provide further comments on the report of the Group of Legal Experts, including on the question of future action.  Furthermore, the Assembly would urge Governments to provide specific details, in particular with respect to paragraph 3 of the resolution, when providing information to the Secretary-General concerning the establishment of jurisdiction, particularly over crimes of a serious nature, as known in their existing domestic criminal laws, committed by their nationals while serving as United Nations officials or experts on mission, as well as cooperation among States.  Moreover, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to include in his report information on the number and types of credible allegations and any actions taken by the United Nations and its Member States regarding crimes of a serious nature committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission, including information on efforts made to ensure the completeness of incident reporting.

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