Sixth Committee (Legal) — 76th session
The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction (Agenda item 86)
- Authority: resolution 75/142
Additional documents from previous sessions:
- Reports of the Secretary-General:
A/75/151 | A/74/144 | A/73/123 + Add.1 | A/72/112 | A/71/111 | A/70/125 | A/69/174 | A/68/113 | A/67/116 | A/66/93 + Add.1 | A/65/181
- A/C.6/75/SR.17 | A/C.6/74/SR.34 | A/C.6/73/SR.33 — Summary records of the 17th meeting (11 November 2020), the 34th meeting (11 November 2019) and the 33rd meeting (5 November 2018)
- A/C.6/66/WG.3/1 — Informal Working Paper
- A/C.6/66/WG.3/DP.1 — Informal paper of the Working Group: Non-paper by Chile
- Informal Working Paper (Annex)
Summary of work
Background (source: A/76/100)
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, 74/192 and 75/142).
At its seventy-fifth session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 41 delegations (see A/C.6/75/SR.11, 12, 17 and 19). The Assembly decided to establish, at its seventy-seventh 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 on their national legal rules and judicial practice, and requested the Secretary-General to prepare and submit to the Assembly at its seventy-sixth session a report based on such information and observations (resolution 75/142).
Consideration at the seventy-sixth session
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-sixth 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, A/75/151, and A/76/203).
Statements were made by the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), Morocco (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union (also on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, aligned themselves with the statement)), Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)), New Zealand (on behalf of CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand)), Singapore, Sierra Leone, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Cuba [in English], the Philippines, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, South Africa, Qatar, Liechtenstein, China, Pakistan, the United States of America, Israel, Brazil, El Salvador, Oman, Slovakia, Mexico, Burkina Faso, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, India, Slovenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Myanmar, Rwanda, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Zambia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Senegal, Morocco, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Colombia and Algeria. Statements were also made by the observers of the Holy See and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The representative of the Syrian Arab Republic spoke in the exercise of the right of reply.
Delegations generally stated that universal jurisdiction was an important, well-established principle of international law aimed at combating impunity. It was emphasized by some delegations that universal jurisdiction should be exercised in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity and that it was a jurisdictional basis to hold perpetrators accountable for the most serious crimes under international law. In that regard, the exceptional character of universal jurisdiction was underlined. Some delegations noted that universal jurisdiction was an important factor in deterrence.
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, piracy, terrorism and aggression, even though there remained divergences as to which crimes in particular.
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 for 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 the sovereign equality of States, the territorial integrity of States and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, as well as the immunity of States officials was emphasised. A number of delegations further highlighted the need for its application to be in accordance with right to a fair trial and the rule of law. While some delegations provided information on their national legislation on universal jurisdiction, spelling out the crimes to which it applied and the conditions for its application, several delegations also urged States to incorporate universal jurisdiction into their national legislation.
On the future consideration of the agenda item, several delegations supported continued discussions within the Sixth Committee and its Working Group. Delegations 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. The suggestion was also made to revitalize the work of the Sixth Committee through the issuance of a report of the Secretary-General which would review previous reports on the subject and identifying challenges, and points of concordance and divergence, as to its scope and application.
Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings
Action taken by the Sixth Committee
At the 29th meeting, on 18 November, the representative of Mauritius, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” (A/C.6/76/L.14). At the same meeting the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/76/L.14 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 29 April 2022, 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-seventh 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-seventh 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 also invite that said working group to consider and comment on the question “what should be the role and purpose 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-seventh session (2022).
Full texts of submissions (A/76/203)
|Relevant observer||Original submission||Translation|
|Council of Europe||English|