Sixth Committee (Legal) — 74th session

Consideration of prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities and allocation of loss in the case of such harm (Agenda item 81)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/74/100)

At its fifty-sixth session, the General Assembly, under the item entitled “Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fifty-third session”, considered chapter V of the report of the Commission, which contained the draft articles on prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities, together with a recommendation that the Assembly consider the elaboration of a convention on the basis of the draft articles. The Assembly expressed its appreciation for the valuable work done by the Commission on the issue of prevention on the topic of “International liability for injurious consequences arising out of acts not prohibited by international law (prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities)”, and requested the Commission to resume, during its fifty-fourth session, its consideration of the liability aspects of the topic (resolution 56/82).

At its sixty-first session, the Assembly, under the item entitled “Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fifty-eighth session”, took note of the draft principles on the allocation of loss in the case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities adopted by the Commission (resolution 61/36, annex), and decided to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-second session an item entitled “Consideration of prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities and allocation of loss in the case of such harm” (resolution 61/36).

The Assembly has considered the item triennially since its sixty-second session (resolutions 62/68, 65/28, 68/114 and 71/143).

At its seventy-first session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 11 delegations (see A/C.6/71/SR.18, 31 and 32). The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit a compilation of decisions of international courts, tribunals and other bodies referring to the articles and the principles and decided to include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-fourth session the item entitled “Consideration of prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities and allocation of loss in the case of such harm” (resolution 71/143).

Consideration at the seventy-fourth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 21st, 33rd and 34th meetings, on 22 October and on 6 and 11 November 2019 (see A/C.6/74/SR.21, 33 and 34).  For its consideration of the item, the Committee had before it the reports of the Secretary-General (A/74/131, A/74/131/Add.1 and A/74/132).

Statements were made by the representatives of: Sweden (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway (Nordic countries)), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)) [in English], China [in English], the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Sudan, the United States of America, Turkey, El Salvador, the Russian Federation, Portugal, Malaysia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Egypt. The representatives of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina made statements in the exercise of the right of reply.

Several delegations continued to welcome the work of the International Law Commission in this area, and reiterated their support for the draft articles on prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities, as well as for the draft principles on the allocation of loss in the case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities. States were also encouraged to continue to be guided by the articles and principles by some delegations.

A number of delegations made substantive comments on the articles and principles, with some delegations highlighting the absence of a definition of the term “significant transboundary harm” in the articles. The view was expressed that due consideration should be provided to the different features of environmental damage and added that the considerations of hazardous activities should contemplate disaster management.

With regard to the final form of the articles and the principles, some delegations reiterated that they would be most effective if they remained in their current form, highlighting their usefulness as non-binding guidance or as customary international law. Some delegations further provided that the articles and principles were already part of the international law framework. A preference was expressed by delegations for addressing the relevant issues through sector-specific and regional instruments, rather than a general convention. On the other hand, it was noted by other delegations that a unified convention incorporating both the articles and the principles could be useful, and a call for continued work on finding the most acceptable format for the articles and the principles was made.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   21st meeting (22 October 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   34th meeting (11 November 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 33rd meeting, on 6 November, the representative of Czechia, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Consideration of prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities and allocation of loss in the case of such harm” (A/C.6/74/L.10). 

At the 34th meeting, on 11 November, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/74/L.10 without a vote.

By the terms of the resolution, the General Assembly would, inter alia, commend the articles on prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities (A/RES/62/68) and the principles on the allocation of loss in the case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities (A/RES/61/36) to the attention of Governments, and invite Governments to submit further comments on any future action, in particular on the form of the respective articles and principles, bearing in mind the recommendations made by the Commission in that regard, including in relation to the elaboration of a convention on the basis of the articles, as well as on any practice in relation to the application of the articles and principles. It would also request the Secretary-General to submit a compilation of decisions of international courts, tribunals and other bodies referring to the articles and the principles. Finally, it would include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-seventh session the item entitled “Consideration of prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities and allocation of loss in the case of such harm”.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-seventh session (2022).

Quick Links

Key Documents

Resources