Sixth Committee (Legal) — 73rd session

The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction (Agenda item 87)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/73/100)

The item entitled “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” was included in the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly at the request of the United Republic of Tanzania on behalf of the Group of African States (A/63/237/Rev.1). The Assembly has had the item on its agenda annually since then (resolutions 64/117, 65/33, 66/103, 67/98, 68/117, 69/124, 70/119, 71/149 and 72/120).

At its seventy-second session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 46 delegations (see A/C.6/72/SR.13 and 14). The Assembly decided to establish, at its seventy-third session, a working group of the Sixth Committee to continue to undertake a thorough discussion of the scope and application of universal jurisdiction. The Assembly also decided that the working group would be open to all Member States and that relevant observers to the Assembly would be invited to participate in the work of the working group. The Assembly invited Member States and relevant observers, as appropriate, to submit information and observations on the scope and application of universal jurisdiction, including, where appropriate, information on the relevant applicable international treaties and their national legal rules and judicial practice, and requested the Secretary-General to prepare and submit to the Assembly at its seventy-third session a report based on such information and observations (resolution 72/120).

Consideration at the seventy-third session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 10th to 12th, 33rd and 35th meetings, from 9 to 11 October and on 5 and 13 November 2018 (A/C.6/73/SR.10, 11, 12, 33 and 35).

For its consideration of the item, the Committee had before it the reports of the Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly at its sixty-fifth to seventy-third sessions (A/65/181, A/66/93 and Add.1, A/67/116, A/68/113, A/69/174, A/70/125, A/71/111, A/72/112, and A/73/123 and A/73/123/Add.1).

At its 1st meeting, on 3 October, the Committee established a working group pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/120 to continue to undertake a thorough discussion of the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. In its resolution 72/120, the Assembly decided that the Working Group should be open to all Member States and that relevant observers to the Assembly would be invited to participate in its work. The Working Group held two meetings, on 11 and 17 October. At its 33rd meeting, on 5 November, the Committee heard and took note of the oral report of the Chair of the Working Group (see A/C.6/73/SR.33).

Statements were made by the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), the Gambia (on behalf of the African Group), New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and Canada (CANZ)), Sweden (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway) (Nordic countries)), El Salvador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Qatar, Peru, Liechtenstein, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, the Sudan, Gabon, Slovakia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Czech Republic, India, Cuba, Egypt, Mauritius, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Mexico, Kenya, Rwanda, China, El Salvador, the Russian Federation, Libya, Morocco, Eswatini, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, the United States of America, Uruguay, Panama, Israel, Viet Nam, Zambia, Senegal, Austria, Saudi Arabia, the Gambia, Mali, Mozambique, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lesotho, Brazil, Algeria, Bangladesh and Nigeria. Statements were also made by the observers for the Holy See and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Delegations generally stated that universal jurisdiction was an important, well-established principle of international law aimed at combating impunity. It was emphasized that universal jurisdiction was a complementary mechanism to hold perpetrators accountable for the most serious crimes under international law, which should be exercised in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. A number of delegations also underlined the exceptional character of universal jurisdiction. Some delegations highlighted its role in promoting the rule of law.

As regards the scope of universal jurisdiction, a number of delegations considered that universal jurisdiction applied to the most serious crimes under international law and provided various examples of such crimes, including war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, slavery, torture and piracy. While caution was expressed against the establishment of an exhaustive list of crimes, some delegations stressed that the crimes to which the principle applied should be identified. It was suggested that there were no widely recognized rules of customary international law for universal jurisdiction, and some delegations emphasized the need for a careful analysis of State practice and opinio juris in this regard.

With respect to the application of universal jurisdiction, delegations reaffirmed their concern over potential abuse or manipulation of the principle. Several delegations stressed that the principle must be applied in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law, including respect for the sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity and the non-interference in the internal affairs of States. A number of delegations further highlighted the need for its application in accordance with rules on immunities.

On the future consideration of the agenda item, a number of delegations supported continued discussions within the Sixth Committee and the Working Group, while some delegations suggested that such discussions were at an impasse. Delegations also shared diverging views on the decision taken by the International Law Commission to include the topic “Universal criminal jurisdiction” in its long-term programme of work. While several delegations voiced support for the decision taken by the Commission, other delegations considered that it would be premature and counterproductive at this stage for the Commission to undertake a study on the topic. A view was expressed that the Commission’s work could be limited to the consideration of certain technical questions relevant to the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction, which could contribute to the work of the Sixth Committee on the item. A number of delegations noted that, notwithstanding the inclusion of the topic in the Commission’s long-term programme of work, the item should be retained in the Sixth Committee.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   10th meeting (9 October 2018, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Video   11th meeting (10 October 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   12th meeting (11 October 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   33rd meeting (5 November 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   35th meeting (13 November 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 35th meeting, on 13 November, the representative of the Gambia, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” (A/C.6/73/L.16). At the same meeting the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/73/L.16 without a vote.

Under the terms of the draft resolution, the General Assembly would invite Member States and relevant observers, as appropriate, to submit, before 26 April 2019, information and observations on the scope and application of universal jurisdiction, including, where appropriate, information on the relevant applicable international treaties, their national legal rules and judicial practice. The Assembly would further request the Secretary-General to prepare and submit to the Assembly, at its seventy-fourth session, a report based on such information and observations. The Assembly would moreover decide that the Sixth Committee shall continue its consideration of the item. For this purpose, a working group would be established at the seventy-fourth session to continue to undertake a thorough discussion of the scope and application of universal jurisdiction. The General Assembly would decide that the working group shall be open to all Member States and that relevant observers to the Assembly will be invited to participate in the work of the working group.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-fourth session (2019).

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