Sixth Committee (Legal) — 75th session

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

Documentation

Additional documents from previous sessions:

Summary of work

Background (source: A/75/100)

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, 72/120, 73/208 and 74/192).

At its seventy-fourth session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 50 delegations (see A/C.6/74/SR.1417). The Assembly decided to establish, at its seventy-fifth 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-fifth session a report based on such information and observations (resolution 74/192).

Consideration at the seventy-fifth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 11th, 12th, 17th and 19th meetings, on 3, 4, 11 and 19 November 2020 (A/C.6/75/SR.11, 12, 17 and 19).

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-fifth 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, A/73/123 and Add.1, A/74/144, and A/75/151).

At its 1st meeting, on 6 October, the Committee established a working group pursuant to General Assembly resolution 74/192 to continue to undertake a thorough discussion of the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. In its resolution 74/192, 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 30 October and 5 November. At its 17th meeting, on 11 November, the Committee heard and took note of the oral report of the Chair of the Working Group (see A/C.6/75/SR.17).

Statements were made by the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), Sweden (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway (the Nordic Countries)), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)) [in English], Singapore, Syrian Arab Republic, India, the Philippines, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the United States of America, El Salvador, Slovakia, Brazil, Sierra Leone, the Sudan, Czech Republic, South Africa, Malaysia, Israel, Egypt, Cuba [in English], Paraguay, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Cameroon, China, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Algeria, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Nigeria, Haiti and Zambia. A statement was also made by the observer for the Holy See.

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. In that regard, the exceptional character of universal jurisdiction was noted.

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.  

With respect to the application of universal jurisdiction, a number of delegations reaffirmed their concerns over the uncertain scope of the principle and its potential abuse or misuse. Several delegations stressed that the principle must be applied in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law.  The importance of applying the principle respecting sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States was emphasised.  A number of delegations further highlighted the need for its application in accordance with the rules on immunities.

On the future consideration of the agenda item, some delegations supported continued discussions within the Sixth Committee and the Working Group, while other delegations expressed their concerns 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 some delegations favoured consideration of the legal aspects of the topic by the Commission, other delegations reiterated their view that it would be premature and counterproductive at this stage for the Commission to undertake such a study.  

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   11th meeting (3 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   12th meeting (4 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   17th meeting (11 November 2020, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | 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 Ghana, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” (A/C.6/75/L.13). At the same meeting the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/75/L.13 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 30 April 2021, 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-sixth 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 in plenary at the seventy-sixth session. A working group would be established at the seventy-seventh 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.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

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

Full texts of submissions (A/75/151)

State Original submission Translation
Canada English  
El Salvador Spanish English
Greece English  
Malaysia English  
Portugal English  
Senegal French English
Slovenia English  
Switzerland French English
Turkey English  
Turkmenistan Russian English
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland English  
Zimbabwe English  
 
Relevant observer Original submission Translation
African Union English  
Council of Europe English  
ICRC English  
UNEP English  

Quick Links

Key Documents

Resources