As Session Concludes, Sixth Committee Approves Nine Draft Texts, with Speakers Voicing Disappointment on ‘Rule of Law’ Resolution

GA/L/3564
10 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 30th Meeting (AM)

As Session Concludes, Sixth Committee Approves Nine Draft Texts, with Speakers Voicing Disappointment on ‘Rule of Law’ Resolution

Chair Urges Delegations to Uphold Tradition of Seeking Consensus on Drafts

As the Sixth Committee (Legal) concluded its seventy‑second session today by taking action on eight draft resolutions and one draft decision, delegates highlighted the existence of divergent views on one draft text, while extolling the importance of consensus-building.

Adhering to its long-held tradition of approving texts without a vote, the Committee did so with the draft resolution, “the rule of law at the national and international levels”.  By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would further reaffirm its commitment to work for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Among other things, it would also have the Assembly stress the importance of adherence to the rule of law at the national level.

However, as the Committee took up that resolution, delegates highlighted their concern over parts of that draft document, both before and after action had been taken on the text, with many speakers voicing regret and disappointment that consensus had not been reached during informal discussions.

Liechtenstein’s representative, introducing the draft, said he regretted that the Sixth Committee had been unable to agree on proposals to advance the resolution, particularly on such issues as the progress of United Nations rule of law field assistance, as well as its decision not to focus on the 2030 Agenda in its next session.

Australia’s delegate underscored the Deputy Secretary-General’s suggestion to include rule of law in the Sixth Committee resolutions.  It was regrettable that a small number of Member States had blocked the inclusion of language regarding the matter’s importance.  Further, the refusal to engage in a debate was contrary to the commitment made by those countries to the 2030 Agenda as well as to the ideal of the international community working together as one United Nations.

However, Syria’s delegate expressed his strong opposition to the reference contained in the Secretary-General’s report on “Strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities” to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.  That inclusion was both a professional and a legal mistake.  He also pointed out that, during the informal discussions, while some important topics related to the 2030 Agenda had been suggested, some delegations had expressed strong positions, based on the idea that either their proposals should be accepted or they would reject the proposals of others.

Iran’s representative, emphasizing that the text’s reference to the Mechanism was irrelevant, stated that the challenges to rule of law at the international level were not due to a lack of appropriate norms but because of disregard for those norms and disrespect to the international community as a whole.

Still, the Netherlands’ delegate, voicing his disagreement, confirmed the legality of the Mechanism established by the General Assembly.  More so, he stressed that he did not support the notion put forward by both Syria and Iran that the Secretary-General should not pay attention to the Mechanism in his report next year.

Nonetheless, Sudan’s representative pointed to the existence of consensus in many areas during discussion on the matter and highlighted the fact that there had been agreement on all of the paragraphs of the draft resolution except for one.  “We have to see whether the glass is half empty or half full,” he said.

Morocco’s delegate expressed his regret over the lack of consensus despite the various attempts to find a solution.  He also reminded delegates that, by its long-standing tradition of consensus-seeking, the Sixth Committee had always led by example.

Burhan Gafoor (Singapore), Chair of the Sixth Committee, further underscored that stance, recalling that the Committee always worked by consensus, something that had become rare in the international community.  The real value to be found in its work was in creating layers of understanding and commonality through debate and discussion.  Such efforts were never wasted, he said.

The Committee also approved the draft text, “criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission”.  By its terms, the General Assembly would, among other things, express its concern with respect to the low rate of response from States to requests for information on their provisions addressing the establishment of jurisdiction over crimes.  It would also urge States to take measures to ensure that such crimes did not go unpunished.

Also approved was the draft resolution, “United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law”.  That text would have the General Assembly authorize the Secretary-General to carry out the activities specified in his report in 2018 and 2019, such as the International Law Fellowship Programme and the United Nations Regional Courses in International Law, which should be financed from provisions in the regular budget.

The draft resolution on the “report of the International Law Commission on the work of its sixty‑ninth session” was also approved without a vote.  By that text, the Assembly would express its appreciation to the Commission for the work accomplished, and note in particular the completion of the first reading of the draft articles on “Crimes against humanity” with the adoption of the entire set of draft articles.

Next approved was the draft resolution, “the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction”.  By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would invite Member States and relevant observers to submit information and observations on that matter, including information on the relevant and applicable international treaties and their national legal rules and judicial practice.

The Committee also approved the draft resolution on “responsibility of international organizations.”  Among other things, the General Assembly would take note once again of the articles on that matter, and would request the Secretary-General to update the compilation of decisions of international courts, tribunals and other bodies referring to the articles. It would also ask Governments and international organizations to submit information on their practice in that regard.

Also approved was the draft resolution on “measures to eliminate international terrorism”.  That text would have the General Assembly call upon all Member States, the United Nations and other appropriate organizations to implement the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  In addition, it would ask the General Assembly to express its grave concern over the acute and growing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, and to emphasize the need for States to address that issue, including through the implementation of their international obligations.

The draft resolution on the “report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country” was also approved.  The text would, among other matters, request that the General Assembly recall the privileges and immunities applicable to the premises of permanent missions to the United Nations enjoyed under international law.  It would also urge the host country to address alleged violations and to remove any restrictions inconsistent with the privileges and immunities applied to the premises of a permanent mission.

Approved without a vote by the Committee was the draft decision on “revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”.  That text would have the General Assembly adopt the provisional programme of work for the seventy‑third session.

Also speaking today were representatives of Pakistan, Ghana, Peru, Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, Finland (for the Nordic countries), Uruguay, Cuba, Guatemala, Kenya, Brazil, Cyprus, Russian Federation, Togo, Paraguay, Uganda, and Ukraine, as well as the European Union delegation.

Action on Draft Resolutions

The representative of Pakistan, introducing the draft resolution “criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (document A/C.6/72/L.18), said that the text was the product of detailed informal and bilateral consultations.  Outlining one new preambular paragraph and two new operative paragraphs, he noted that the additions and amendments made to the text concerned the need to strengthen responses from Member States on referrals made to them, as well as to create a culture in which individuals were encouraged to report misconduct.

The Committee then approved that draft without a vote.

Next, the representative of Ghana introduced the draft on “the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law” (document A/C.6/72/L.19), saying that the text closely resembled the resolution approved last year.  He highlighted new or substantially amended provisions that referred to a new fellowship and called attention to the website of the International Law Commission.

That text was approved without a vote.

The representative of Peru, introducing the draft resolution “report of the International Law Commission on the work of its sixty‑ninth session” (document A/C.6/72/L.21), said that the draft had been circulated on 27 October as the debate commenced on that subject.  He noted that operative paragraph 2 spoke of the completion of the first reading of the draft articles on “Crimes against humanity”, and operative paragraphs 6 and 7 related to the long-term programme of work of the Commission.  Operative paragraph 13 recalled that the seat of the Commission was in Geneva, while paragraph 14 took note of the decision to hold part of its next session in New York.

The Committee then approved that draft without a vote.

The representative of Liechtenstein, introducing the draft resolution “the rule of law at the national and international levels” (document A/C.6/72.L17), said that he regretted the inability of the Sixth Committee to agree on proposals to further advance the resolution, such as an explicit reflection on progress and challenges with regard to United Nations rule of law assistance in the field.  It was also unfortunate that the suggestion made by the Deputy-Secretary-General to focus the debate in 2018 on the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda had not been agreeable to some delegations.

The representative of Syria, speaking in explanation of position before action, expressed his reservations regarding a reference in the Secretary-General’s report “Strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities” (document A/72/268), specifically subparagraph C (60) under the heading “Other international accountability mechanisms”.  That subparagraph came under the third main section of the report, “Promotion of the rule of law at the international level”.  Including a text in that report referring to the so-called international and independent Mechanism in Syria represented a professional and legal mistake, and one that should be corrected.  The General Assembly resolution that had led to the establishment of that Mechanism was a politicized one.

The Committee then approved that draft resolution without a vote.

The representative of Australia, speaking in explanation of position after action, voiced disappointment regarding the discussions on the final text of the resolution.  The Deputy Secretary-General had highlighted the importance of rule of law and had suggested including that topic in the Sixth Committee resolutions.  Despite that being an excellent suggestion, it was regrettable that a small number of Member States had blocked the inclusion of language regarding the importance of rule of law in fighting poverty, improving gender equality and building strong institutions.  Further, the refusal to engage in a debate was contrary to the commitment made by those countries to the 2030 Agenda as well as to the ideal of the international community working together as one United Nations.

The representative of the European Union delegation said he regretted that consensus had not been formed with regard to implementing rule of law elements of the 2030 Agenda, as requested by the Deputy Secretary-General.  As one of the major documents of the United Nations, the Agenda applied to the whole United Nations system, including the Sixth Committee.

The representative of Austria, speaking for the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law, said that with regard to the 2030 Agenda, the General Assembly had reaffirmed its commitment to its implementation as a whole.  A frank discussion should be had as to how the United Nations could improve its rule of law support to its Member States, as it was vital to peace, security and human rights.

The representative of Canada noted her disappointment with the outcome of the discussions on the draft resolution, in particular the Sixth Committee’s failure to agree on discussing the 2030 Agenda and the rule of law at its seventy‑third session.  She expressed hope that while the draft resolution did not identify the Agenda as the Committee’s subtopic for 2018, delegations would not hesitate to offer their thoughts and contributions on that issue.

The representative of New Zealand noted her regret that it had not been possible to adopt the subtopic on the 2030 Agenda, but thanked the Deputy Secretary-General for her invitation to discuss the rule of law elements in that Agenda.  In the absence of an agreed subtopic, she said she intended to use next year’s debate to discuss the links between the Agenda and the rule of law.

The representative of Finland, also speaking for the Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), recalled that a vast majority of Member States had expressed the wish to focus the discussion in the seventy‑third session on implementation of rule of law elements of the 2030 Agenda and the sharing of best practices.  It was regretful that it had not been possible to find agreement on that matter.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that, during the consultations on the resolution on rule of law, it had not been possible to find compromise on a topic for future discussion.  His delegation had voiced concern previously over the fact that the topic of rule of law was fraught with the possibility of abuse, and had introduced a possible topic on mutual legal assistance.  That had been rejected without any debate by a small group of States.  Expressing the hope that such a situation would not recur in the future, he called on all delegations to work together.

The representative of Uruguay, expressing regret over the lack of consensus, said that rule of law was an important topic.  In 2018, the Committee would hopefully be able to deal with that topic.

The representative of Cuba voiced her regret that the Sixth Committee would not have the proposed subtopic because of the lack of flexibility by some delegations on an issue that affected all delegations.

The representative of Iran said that the challenges to rule of law at the international level were not because of lack of appropriate norms but because of disregard for those norms and disrespect to the international community as a whole.  The discussions regarding the subtopic should concern the full and balanced implementation of the 2030 Agenda, he said, cautioning against a partial and one-sided approach to the topic.  In addition, the reference in the report to the Mechanism was irrelevant.

The representative of Syria said that he was surprised by what was being said by other delegations about the draft resolution on the rule of law, particularly on the subject of the inclusion of a secondary topic next year.  During the informal discussions, delegations had suggested some important topics, some of which were related to the 2030 Agenda.  Some delegations had expressed strong positions, based on the idea that either their proposals should be accepted or they would reject the proposals of others.

The representative of the Netherlands, associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law, disputed what had been said by the representatives of Syria and Iran.  He reaffirmed the legality of the Mechanism that had been established by the General Assembly.  It was a legal instrument and the General Assembly had the mandate for it.  Any suggestion by the delegates of Syria and Iran that the Secretary-General should not pay attention to the Mechanism in his report next year was not supported by the Netherlands.

The representative of Guatemala said that it was unfortunate that consensus had not been reached.  The application of the rule of law was extremely important.  He also deplored the fact that the suggestion made by the Deputy Secretary-General to include the 2030 Agenda had not gained consensus, as it was a topic adopted by the membership in general.

The representative of Sudan, underscoring that “We have to see whether the glass is half empty or half full,” noted that there had been agreement on all paragraphs except one.  His delegation had not opposed the inclusion of any topic, he said, adding that Sudan was one of the countries that required sustainable development.  Nonetheless, selectivity was dangerous and the question should be about how exactly the Committee would discuss those various elements at the next session.

The representative of Morocco said that the situation was setting a new precedent.  Expressing regret over the lack of consensus, he recalled various attempts to find a solution.  He also reminded delegates that, through its tradition of seeking consensus, the Sixth Committee led by example to the Organization.

The representative of Kenya then introduced the draft resolution, “scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction (document A/C.6/72/L.23)”, noting that compared to last year, there were a few changes that reflected deliberations in the current session, as well as the decision to establish a working group.  He also thanked the delegations that had enabled consensus on that resolution.

The Committee then approved that draft without a vote.

The representative of Brazil introduced the resolution on “responsibility of international organizations” (document A/C.6/72/L.22).  He recalled important topics that had come up during the negotiations of that draft, including whether or not an international convention on the basis of the articles should be elaborated.  Consensus had eventually emerged for a draft that allowed for dialogue on the future of the articles while deferring, to a future session, consideration of what final form those articles might take.

The draft was approved without a vote.

The representative of Canada, introducing the draft resolution, “measures to eliminate international terrorism” (document A/C.6/72/L.14), noted that the text reflected technical updates, as well as new operative paragraphs, one of which referred to the establishment of the Office of Counterterrorism and the initiative to transfer the Counter‑Terrorism Implementation Task Force into that Office.

The Committee then approved that draft without a vote.

The representative of Cyprus introduced the draft resolution on “report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country” (document A/C.6/72/L.20).  The draft contained new operative paragraphs containing technical updates, as well as some new language noting that privileges and immunities should not be restricted because of bilateral issues.

The Committee approved that draft without a vote

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in explanation of position after action, underscored the flagrant violation by the host country of its obligations towards his country.  The resolution welcomed the efforts of the host country but there had been no efforts to correct the situation regarding the Russian Federation’s premises in Oyster Bay.  His delegation would welcome the efforts of the host country when the situation was resolved, he said.

The Sixth Committee then took up the draft decision “revitalization of the work of the General Assembly” (document A/C.6/72/L.24).  The Chair noted that after the plenary debate on that topic, the Bureau had amended the programme of work to begin on 3 October 2018.  The text would recommend that the General Assembly approve the provisional programme of work of the Sixth Committee for 2018.

The representative of Togo thanked the Chair and the Secretariat for their flexibility, which took into account the time needed to prepare for the coming session of the Sixth Committee.

The draft was then approved by the Committee without a vote.

Programme Planning and Procedural Matters

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), Chair of the Sixth Committee, noted that there were currently no reports under the item, “Programme planning”, whereupon the Sixth Committee decided to conclude consideration of it.

Mr. GAFOOR, turning to the item on the election of officers of the Main Committees, said that in accordance with the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, all Main Committees should elect a chair at least three months before the opening of the session.  Further, on the basis of the General Assembly decision regarding interim arrangement of the pattern for the rotation of the Chairs of the Main Committees, the Chair of the Sixth committee for the seventy‑third session would be elected from the Group of African States.

He noted that the Committee would meet one more time during the present Assembly session, in June 2018, to elect the Bureau for the seventy‑third session.  The Chair suggested that regional groups hold consultations to ensure that the Committee would be in a position to elect its next Chair, three Vice-Chairs and a Rapporteur.

Closing Remarks

Mr. GAFOOR underscored that acting as Chair of the Sixth Committee over the last six weeks had been a deep learning experience as well as a privilege.  Noting that Singapore had never held a Chair position in any of the Main Committees of the United Nations, he emphasized that the Sixth Committee was a special place, full of smart, talented, dedicated lawyers and diplomats.  It was inspiring to be amidst them because they were not only defending their national positions but also bringing about a wider understanding of international law.

Furthermore, he continued, the Committee worked by consensus and consensus had become rare in the international community.  Working by consensus was not easy and the work did not move as fast as some would like.  However, the real value of the Committee’s work was in the way it worked, slowly but steadily, creating layers of understanding and commonality through vigorous debate and discussion.  Such efforts were never wasted, he stressed.  While disappointments and regrets were easy to indicate, he stated that he looked forward to the next year’s session with optimism as the Committee continued to strive forward in its tradition of building agreement and consensus on new norms.

Thanking the Bureau, the Secretariat, and the Codification Division, he also praised the work of the interpreters who had kept up with the rapid pace of the debate, as well as that of the Department of Public Information press officers, précis writers and conference officers.

The representative of Paraguay, speaking for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, congratulated the Chair, also highlighting that it was the first time that Singapore had chaired a main Committee.  She also congratulated all members of the Bureau for their commitment and devotion, and thanked the Office of Legal Affairs and members of the Secretariat for their work and support.

The representative of Kenya, speaking for the African Group, extended his gratitude for the way that the Chair had led the work of the Committee, noting that a lot of progress had been made because of his leadership and guidance.

The representative of Uganda thanked the Chair for his leadership and also voiced his appreciation for the close relationships that had been forged with his fellow Bureau members.

The representative of Iran, speaking for the Non‑Aligned Movement, thanked the Chair and members of the Bureau, as well as the translators and colleagues of the Secretariat, noting that their efforts had led to the successful conclusion of the Sixth Committee.

The representative of Ukraine thanked the Chair for his excellent work guiding the discussions of the Sixth Committee.

For information media. Not an official record.