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Sixty-eighth session

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

Summary of work

Background (source: A/68/100)

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 2007 and 2008 (A/62/54 and A/63/54).

The General Assembly considered the item at its sixty-second to sixty-sixth sessions (resolutions 62/63, 63/119, 64/110, 65/20 and 66/93).

At its sixty-seventh session, the General Assembly reaffirmed the various measures envisaged in its previous resolutions on the item, 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 the resolution; took note with appreciation of the information provided by Governments in response to its previous resolutions, and urged Governments to continue taking the measures necessary for the implementation of those resolutions, including their provisions addressing the establishment of jurisdiction over crimes, particularly those of a serious nature, as known in their existing national criminal laws, committed by their nationals while serving as United Nations officials or experts on mission, as well as cooperation among States, and to provide specific details thereon, in particular with respect to paragraph 3 of the resolution, in the information provided to the Secretary-General; and reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to report to the Assembly at its sixty-eighth session on the implementation of the resolution (resolution 67/88).

Consideration at the sixty-eighth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 10th, 11th, 28th and 29th meetings, on 16 October and on 8 and 15 November 2013 (see A/C.6/68/SR.10, 11, 28 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/68/173).

Statements were made by the representatives of: Iran (Islamic Republic of) (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), Cuba (on behalf of the Community of the Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union (also on behalf of the candidate countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland and Serbia, the countries of the stabilisation and association process and potential candidates Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, which aligned themselves with the statement), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Ethiopia, South Africa, Thailand, the United States of America, Norway, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Chile, India, Israel, Pakistan and the Russian Federation.

In their general comments, delegations underlined, while stressing the importance of the contributions of United Nations officials and experts on mission, the detrimental and negative effects that criminal acts, in particular serious crimes such as sexual exploitation and abuse, committed by officials and experts while on mission have on the image, credibility, impartiality and integrity of the Organization. They reaffirmed their support for the zero tolerance policy of the United Nations in this respect. While stressing the importance of the respect for the privileges and immunities of United Nations officials and experts on mission, they reiterated the need to respect the rule of law and to avoid impunity with regard to those crimes.

Concerning the establishment of criminal jurisdiction by States over serious crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission, some delegations stressed the need for further measures to close existing gaps and encouraged all States to report on such efforts. Several 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 guarantee that jurisdiction could be exercised. Some delegations suggested that an assessment be undertaken to discover where gaps in jurisdiction existed. Some other delegations highlighted their domestic legislation.

Delegations acknowledged the latest report of the Secretary-General on this topic (A/68/173). They generally welcomed the recent referrals by the United Nations 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 Organization. A concern was nevertheless expressed over the very few responses the Organization had received from States indicating how credible allegations have been followed up in their domestic jurisdictions. In this regard, it was  suggested that the Secretariat includes, in an annex to its reports from next year onwards, relevant information in a table, without necessarily naming the States concerned.

Some delegations underlined the need for increased cooperation among States, as well as between States and the United Nations, with respect to extradition and mutual assistance, including in areas of criminal investigation, exchange of information, the collection of evidence and judicial process.

The need to address the concerns of victims was stressed by a number of 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 (resolution 62/214).

Regarding future action, several delegations looked forward to further discussion of the report of the Group of Legal Experts (A/60/980) at the seventieth session of the Assembly. Delegations reiterated their call for the implementation of the resolutions adopted so far by the Assembly on this item and of the amended draft model Memorandum of Understanding (resolution 61/291). Different views were expressed concerning the potential elaboration of a convention to ensure criminal accountability. While some delegations were open to considering such a proposal, or expressed support for such a convention, other delegations considered that it was still premature to discuss a draft convention, or that such a step would be necessary only if jurisdictional gaps were shown to exist. Some delegations were of the opinion that a convention was not needed, since the problem could be adequately addressed through the adoption of appropriate national legislation. It was suggested that the elaboration of a draft model for national legislation may be useful in this regard. Some delegations suggested focusing on substantive measures at this stage rather than on the question of form. A proposal was also made to refer the matter to the International Law Commission.

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 28th meeting, on 8 November, the representative of Pakistan, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (A/C.6/68/L.15). At its 29th meeting, on 15 November, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/68/L.15 without a vote. At the same meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation made a statement in explanation of position after the adoption of the draft resolution (see A/C.6/68/SR.29).

Under the terms of the draft resolution, the Assembly would confirm the various measures, adopted in previous resolutions, aimed at ensuring the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, and preserve the reporting mechanisms set forth in those resolutions. It would also include the item in the provisional agenda of the sixty-ninth session, while deciding that the consideration of the report of the Group of Legal Experts, in particular its legal aspects, would be continued at the seventieth session in the context of a working group of the Sixth Committee.

This agenda item was subsequently considered at the sixty-ninth session (2014).