Sixth Committee (Legal) — 75th session

Crimes against humanity (Agenda item 81)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/75/100)

At its seventy-fourth session, the General Assembly, under the item entitled “Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its seventy-first session”, took note of the draft articles on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity contained in chapter IV of the report of the Commission (A/74/10), and decided to include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-fifth session an item entitled “Crimes against humanity” and to continue to examine the recommendation of the Commission contained in paragraph 42 of its report on the work of its seventy-first session (resolution 74/187).

Consideration at the seventy-fifth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 5th, 6th and 19th meetings, on 14 and 15 October and 19 November 2020. The views of the representatives who spoke during the Committee’s consideration of the item are reflected in the relevant summary records (See A/C.6/75/SR.56 and 19).

Statements were made by the representatives of South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union (on behalf of its member States, the candidate countries the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and Georgia, aligned themselves with the statement), Sweden (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway), Austria, Argentina, Singapore, Syrian Arab Republic, Bangladesh, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Germany, Switzerland, El Salvador, Slovakia, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Czech Republic, Egypt, Cuba [in English], Portugal, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Chile, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Viet Nam, United Kingdom, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, India, Estonia, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, China, Malaysia, Senegal, Indonesia, Lebanon, Philippines, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Armenia and Colombia.

A statement was also made by the observer for the State of Palestine.

The representatives of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia made statements in the exercise of the right of reply.

Delegations generally noted that crimes against humanity constitute a threat to international peace and security. Many delegations emphasized that there is a need to prevent such crimes and to ensure that their perpetrators are held accountable. A number of delegations noted that the primary responsibility lies with the State itself for the protection of its population from such crimes. In that regard, several delegations noted the existence of a need for technical assistance to develop national capacities in the fields of investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity. Furthermore, some delegations emphasized the importance of ensuring that efforts to prevent and punish crimes against humanity respect State sovereignty and avoid interference in States’ domestic affairs.

Delegations generally expressed appreciation for the work of the International Law Commission on the topic. The view was expressed that the draft articles provide useful practical guidance to States. Appreciation for the Commission’s efforts to accommodate the views of States in its work on the topic was also expressed.

A number of delegations expressed support for the elaboration of an international convention on the topic on the basis of the draft articles. Several delegations shared the view that a convention would fill a legal gap. A view was expressed that a convention would consolidate international law in the area. Some delegations noted that a convention could provide a legal framework to encourage national-level prosecutions of alleged perpetrators.

While many delegations supporting a convention expressed a preference for a diplomatic conference to be convened for the purpose of its elaboration without delay, several delegations stated that they needed additional time to study further the draft articles and some delegations were of the view that a convention would be premature. Several delegations highlighted a need for a clear timeline for further progress towards a convention, while others noted that progress toward a convention should be made without delay. Some delegations expressed a preference to keep the discussion on the topic within the Sixth Committee. The importance that any process towards a convention should be open and transparent was emphasised.

The view was also expressed that the elaboration of a convention was unnecessary in view of the existing legal framework. The possibility for States to accede to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity was noted.

The initiative for the adoption of a Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes was recalled.  A number of delegations emphasized that the initiative would complement a new convention for the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity, while others emphasized the importance to avoid conflicts between the two initiatives.

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   5th meeting (14 October 2020, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Video   6th meeting (15 October 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   19th meeting (19 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 19th meeting, on 19 November, the representative of Georgia, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Crimes against humanity” (A/C.6/75/L.20). At the same meeting, the representative of Mexico, also on behalf of Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Lebanon, Norway, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Switzerland and Sweden, spoke in explanation of position prior to action on the draft resolution. The Committee then adopted draft resolution A/C.6/75/L.20 without a vote.
Under the terms of the draft resolution, the Assembly would take note of the draft articles presented by the International Law Commission and decide to continue its examination of the recommendation of the International Law Commission, contained in paragraph 42 of its report A/74/10, at the seventy-sixth session of the Assembly.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will thus be considered at the seventy-sixth session (2021).

Related links

Quick Links

Key Documents