Sixth Committee (Legal) — 76th session

Crimes against humanity (Agenda item 83)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/76/100)

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).

At its seventy-fifth session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 45 delegations (see A/C.6/75/SR.5, 6 and 19). The Assembly took note of the draft articles presented by the International Law Commission and decided to continue to examine the recommendation of the Commission contained in paragraph 42 of its report (A/74/10) at the seventy-sixth session of the Assembly (resolution 75/136).

Consideration at the seventy-sixth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 8th, 9th and 29th meetings, on 13 and 15 October and 18 November 2021. 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.6/76/SR.8, 9 and 29).

Statements were made by the representatives of the European Union (also on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, aligned themselves with the statement)), Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)), Singapore, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Egypt, the Philippines, Cuba [in English], China, Colombia, Liechtenstein, Portugal, South Africa, the United States of America, Israel, Brazil, Paraguay, El Salvador, Slovakia, Mexico, Viet Nam, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, Guatemala, Pakistan, Czech Republic, India, the Syrian Arab Republic, Armenia, New Zealand, Cameroon, Estonia, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Myanmar, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon, Jordan, Nigeria, Slovenia, Costa Rica, Austria, France, the Republic of Korea, Italy, Spain [in English], the Netherlands, Poland, Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal, Kenya, Ecuador, Honduras, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Peru and the Russian Federation.

Delegations generally noted that crimes against humanity were among the most serious crimes under international law and were of concern to the international community as a whole. Delegations emphasized that there is a need to prevent such crimes and to ensure that their perpetrators are held accountable.

A number of delegations stated 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. Support was expressed for strengthening international cooperation in the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. 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. Additionally, a number of delegations noted the importance of establishing safeguards against the abuse of the law concerning crimes against humanity to advance political goals.

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, many of which called for progress toward a convention without delay. In the view of several delegations, sufficient consensus existed on the core of the draft articles to allow for the elaboration of a convention. Several delegations shared the view that a convention would fill a legal gap. Some delegations observed that a convention would consolidate international law in the area. Others noted that a convention could provide a legal framework to encourage national-level prosecutions of alleged perpetrators.

Several delegations expressed support for the opening of treaty negotiations to elaborate a convention, in particular through a diplomatic conference. Other delegations stated that additional time was needed to study further the draft articles and that a convention would be premature.

Several delegations expressed support for the establishment of a process to allow for dedicated substantive discussion of the draft articles and the recommendation of the Commission; such process could address the concerns of States that have asked for clarification on some of the draft articles. To that end, a number of delegations expressed support for the establishment of an ad hoc committee with a clear mandate and time frame. Several delegations expressed support for the establishment of a working group of the Sixth Committee for the further consideration of the draft articles. Several delegations emphasized the role of the Sixth Committee to consider the draft articles and the recommendation of the International Law Commission. The need for a clear timeline for further progress towards a convention was emphasized.. The provision of written comments by States on the draft articles was also called for. 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. Several delegations highlighted the desirability of a consensus-based outcome.

The view was also expressed that the elaboration of a convention was unnecessary in view of the existing legal framework. The relationship between the topic and the agenda item “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” was noted. The possibilities for States to accede to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and to cooperate through the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) were noted. Additionally, doubts were expressed concerning the prospects for the successful elaboration of a convention in light of the differing views of States on certain questions of substance.

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   8th meeting (13 October 2021, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   9th meeting (15 October 2021, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Video   29th meeting (18 November 2021, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 29th meeting, on 18 November, the representative of Singapore, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Crimes against humanity” (A/C.6/76/L.17). At the same meeting, the representatives of Mexico, Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union and its member States, as well as Albania, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Moldova, Switzerland and Ukraine), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America spoke in explanation of position prior to action on the draft resolution. The Committee then adopted draft resolution A/C.6/76/L.17 without a vote. The representative of Israel spoke in explanation of position after the adoption of the draft resolution.

Under the terms of the draft resolution, the Assembly would take note once again 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-seventh session of the Assembly.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

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

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