Sixth Committee (Legal) — 62nd session

Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission (agenda item 80)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/62/100)

At its sixty-first session, the General Assembly decided that the agenda item entitled “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operation 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; requested the Ad Hoc Committee to report on its work to the Assembly at its sixty-second session; and decided to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-second session the item entitled “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (resolution 61/29).

Consideration at the sixty-second session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 6th, 7th, 17th, 27th and 28th meetings, on 15 and 26 October, and on 12 and 19 November 2007. At the 6th meeting, on 15 October 2007, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission introduced the report of the Ad Hoc Committee (A/62/54). At the same meeting, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, made a statement on behalf of the Office of Legal Affairs, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the Department of Field Support, introducing the Secretariat’s Note contained in document A/62/329.

On the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, the Sixth Committee, at its 1st meeting on 8 October 2007, established a working group with a view to continuing the consideration of the report of the Group of Legal Experts established by the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 59/300, focusing on its legal aspects, taking into account the views expressed in the Ad Hoc Committee (A/C.6/62/SR.1). At the same meeting, the Sixth Committee elected Ms. Maria Telalian (Greece) as Chair of the Working Group. The Working Group held 4 meetings, on 15, 16, 17 and 23 October. At the 17th meeting, on 26 October, the Chair of the Working Group presented an oral report on the work of the Working Group (A/C.6/62/SR.17).

Statements were made by the representatives of Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand); Portugal (on behalf of the European Union; the candidate country The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; the countries of the Stabilization and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Montenegro and Serbia; the EFTA country Norway, members of the European Economic Area; as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia aligned themselves with the statement); Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement); Switzerland; Egypt; Guatemala; China; India; Indonesia; Tunisia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Thailand; Ecuador; Uruguay; El Salvador; South Africa; Mexico; Malaysia; Morocco; United States of America; Venezuela; Algeria; Chile; Kenya; the Russian Federation; Iran (Islamic Republic of); Trinidad and Tobago; Nigeria.; and Japan.

Several delegations underlined the seriousness of the problem and the fact that criminal conduct by United Nations officials and experts on mission constitutes a breach of trust which affects the image, credibility and efficiency of the organization. The need for eliminating impunity and implementing a zero-tolerance policy with respect to serious crimes committed by United Nations personnel was emphasized. Several delegations recognized the existence of jurisdictional gaps that may lead to impunity, especially in situations where the host State is unable to exercise its criminal jurisdiction with respect to an alleged offender, and where the State of nationality of the alleged offender is not in a position to assert its jurisdiction over crimes committed in the host State.

Some delegations supported the elaboration of a convention requiring the State of nationality to establish criminal jurisdiction over its nationals. It was noted that a convention would also provide clarity on the bases for the exercise of criminal jurisdiction and on the categories of individuals and crimes subject to that jurisdiction. Moreover, it was stated that a convention would facilitate cooperation between States, and between States and the United Nations, namely in the field of investigations, extradition, mutual assistance and information-sharing. The draft convention presented by the Group of Legal Experts was viewed by some delegations as a good basis for discussion. Some other delegations considered it premature for the Sixth Committee to discuss the adoption of a convention and suggested that the Committee focus its work on substantive matters which require further consideration. Doubts were raised by some delegations on the necessity of a convention in order to address the current problems. In this regard, it was observed that more information was needed from the Secretariat on the practical problems to be addressed, before starting to negotiate a convention. 

Some delegations believed that the response to the problem should not be limited to United Nations personnel on peacekeeping operations, but should be extended to all United Nations personnel finding themselves in the area of a United Nations operation. It was also held that personnel engaged in a Chapter VII operation should be covered. According to another view, efforts should focus, for the time being, on peacekeeping personnel. While several delegations considered that military members of national contingents should not be covered, a view was expressed in favour of their inclusion within the present topic. Conflicting opinions were expressed on the inclusion of military observers and members of civilian police.

Some delegations were of the view that the crimes to be covered were not only those against the person, but also included serious economic crimes. It was observed that the notion of “serious crime” needed to be clearly defined and that reference to a threshold of punishment may not be sufficient in this regard.

According to some delegations, priority should be given to the jurisdiction of the host State, while the jurisdiction of the State of nationality should be envisaged only in case of incapacity by the host State to exercise its jurisdiction in compliance with recognized standards of due process and human rights. According to another view, priority should be given to the exercise of jurisdiction by the State of nationality of the alleged offender. It was observed that the establishment of a universal jurisdiction regime was probably unnecessary in order to address the current problems.

Several delegations supported the adoption of short-term measures as suggested by the Secretary-General, including a General Assembly resolution calling upon States to establish their jurisdiction over their nationals who have allegedly committed a serious crime in the context of a United Nations operation. Some delegations underlined the importance of adopting preventive measures, including by means of appropriate trainings. It was proposed that a policy of aid to victims be set up. While some delegations stressed the need for improving the Organization’s capacity with respect to the collection of evidence, concern was also expressed about the use in criminal proceedings of evidence gathered for purposes of administrative investigations. It was also stated that the Secretariat should play a greater role by strengthening its mechanisms of oversight and discipline.

Some delegations called for a clearer and more uniform practice with regard to the waiver of immunities of United Nations personnel. A proposal was made that the scope of such immunities be restricted.

Some delegations pointed to the need for cooperation on this item between the Sixth Committee and the Fourth Committee, as well as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. Support was expressed for the convening of an Ad Hoc Committee to continue the consideration of this topic.

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 27th meeting, on 12 November 2007, the representative of Greece, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (A/C.6/62/L.10). At its 28th meeting, on 19 November, the Secretary of the Committee made a statement regarding the financial implications of the draft resolution (A/C.6/62/SR.28). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/62/L.10 without a vote. The representative of Canada, also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, spoke in explanation of position after the adoption of the draft resolution (A/C.6/62/SR.28).

This agenda item was subsequently considered at the sixty-third session (2008)

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