12 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 4th Meeting (PM)

Speakers Deliberate over Effective Ways to Ensure Criminal Accountability for Officials, Experts on Mission, as Sixth Committee Takes Up Report

As the Sixth Committee (Legal) began consideration of the annual reports on criminal accountability for United Nations officials and experts on mission today, some speakers called on Member States whose nationals were alleged to have committed a crime to provide previously requested information on those cases, while other stressed that primary jurisdictional responsibility laid with the alleged perpetrators’ State of nationality.

Before the Committee were the reports of the Secretary-General, “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (documents A/75/217 and A/75/228).

“We must do better,” urged Switzerland’s representative, stating that the numbers of reported cases painted a dire picture of Member States’ commitment to provide effective accountability.  To date, the Secretary-General has referred 219 allegations to Member States and, of those, 175 remain unanswered, he observed. 

Malaysia’s representative, echoing that stance and citing those same numbers, underscored that the pressure to resolve the matter grows as the list of referred cases lengthens and Member States continue to fail to provide necessary follow-up information.

The representative of Togo highlighted the need for preventative measures, suggesting that the Secretariat request Member States to certify their personnel serving on United Nations missions had no history of criminal activity.  His country’s military justice code allows for the prosecution of all crimes committed by active military and paramilitary personnel, regardless of where they are deployed.

Nepal’s representative stressed that peace and stability under the rule of law cannot be achieved if the protectors themselves become perpetrators.  However, he cautioned that allegations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, objecting to naming and shaming an entire peacekeeping mission or the States contributing troops or police based on the criminal deeds of any individual official.

The Sixth Committee also concluded its debate on measures to eliminate international terrorism. (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3614, GA/L/3615 and GA/L/3616.)

An observer for the State of Palestine stressed that, although Muslims were on the front line of the fight against terrorism, they were being subjected to attacks in many countries for political gain.  This must end, as an enemy of a few thousand is not defeated by alienating 2 billion, he emphasized.  He also pointed out the pattern of characterizing an action as terrorist in nature if committed by a person of a certain color or faith.  However, when perpetrated by others, such acts were deemed an individual action or the result of mental illness, despite resulting from an organized and articulated ideology.

The representative of Canada, coordinator for the draft resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism, said that this year’s updates will include technical changes only, due to considerations of the COVID-19 pandemic.  She encouraged delegations to participate in the working group on the matter so that their positions were heard.

Prior to commencing the day’s debates, Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, praised the hybrid model that the Committee had adopted for its meetings, adding: “The benefit of face-to-face diplomacy cannot be taken for granted.”  He also said that, for 75 years, the Committee has played a central role in the United Nations’ work to promote respect for international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes.  The International Court of Justice, which is an indispensable part of the United Nations system, has been joined by other courts over the years as a direct result of the Sixth Committee’s work.  Urging those present not to delay discussions of important issues, he called for the Committee to continue its work to strengthen the international legal order.

The representative of Myanmar spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 October, to conclude its debate on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission and to begin consideration on crimes against humanity.

Criminal Accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Mission

The delegate of Iran, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the member States of the Non-Aligned Movement also comprised of more than 80 per cent of the peacekeeping personnel in the field, as well as being the major recipients of those peacekeeping missions.  It was crucial that the State of nationality acted in a timely manner to investigate and prosecute any alleged crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission.  Further, all States must provide information to the United Nations on any such referrals.  An assessment can then be undertaken to determine if the General Assembly needed to take additional measures.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s reaffirmation that there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations, he added that it was still premature to discuss a draft convention on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.

The representative of Cameroon, speaking for the African Group, stressed that the Group’s member States were resolved to keep calling out any crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission.  In that regard, remedial measures adopted under several Assembly resolutions could be used to address the issue of jurisdictional gaps, if properly implemented.  The responsibility of ensuring criminal accountability of such United Nations personnel lies with the State of nationality, rather that the host State.  Towards this end, the Organization’s measures to carry out training of United Nations standards of conduct, including through pre-deployment and in-mission induction training and awareness-raising programmes, was welcomed.  In addition, also welcomed was the technical assistance offered by the United Nations to Member States asking for support in developing their domestic criminal law to combat and deter criminal offences committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission.

The representative of New Zealand, also speaking for Australia and Canada, expressed concern over the continued commission of sexual exploitation and abuse, corruption, fraud and other financial crimes by United Nations officials and experts on mission.  He urged the United Nations to investigate all allegations and to ensure that substantiated cases are dealt with appropriately, either through disciplinary measures or referral to home States.  As well, Member States must investigate allegations of criminal conduct by their nationals, to cooperate with other Member States, to hold perpetrators accountable according to domestic criminal law and to share experiences of dealing with notifications of allegations against their nationals, including any obstacles to effective prosecution.  Further, he expressed his support for the proposal that a convention be developed requiring Member States to exercise criminal jurisdiction over their nationals participating in United Nations operations abroad.

The representative of India, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said accountability for misconduct and serious crimes by United Nations officials and experts on mission were generally secured by disciplinary measures and initiating criminal actions.  Considering the legal aspects of State sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, the United Nations may only take disciplinary measures directly by itself.  The primary responsibility to bring perpetrators to justice rests with Member States.  It is crucial that the State of nationality of an alleged offender is promptly informed and consulted by the United Nations.  The United Nations has an institutional responsibility for acts within their missions, which means they should collaborate with Member States to ensure accountability.  The India Penal code 1860 and Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 are two notable domestic legislations in India that allow the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction over crimes committee abroad by Indian nationals.

The representative of Slovenia, aligning herself with the European Union delegation, highlighted that even specialized agencies and related organizations that function as independent international organizations, responded to the Secretary-General’s request and provided information on their relevant policies and procedures.  The expertise and assistance provided by United Nations officials or experts on mission is vital and any wrongdoing, let alone commission of a crime, casts a dark shadow on their enormous contribution.  It could lead to erosion of trust in the host State.  Prevention measures and raising awareness of United Nations officials or experts on mission, as well as training were essential for ensuring the desired performance, she stressed.

The representative of Ethiopia, associating herself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, stated that Ethiopia stands on both sides of the issue of criminal accountability.  Her country was one of the major troop-contributing countries to United Nations peacekeeping, as well as the seat for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and several other United Nations agencies.  She stressed that the role of prevention cannot be overemphasized – the United Nations and States contributing troops must ensure that such personnel have the necessary training and skills befitting their role as protectors.  Screening and recruitment systems must be streamlined and effective, she added.

The representative of Nepal, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that his country was the Organization’s fourth-largest troop contributing country.  The purpose of promoting the rule of law and peace and stability in the world will never be fulfilled if the protectors themselves become perpetrators, he stressed, adding that Nepal has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse by its peacekeepers.  However, allegations must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he emphasized, underscoring his objection against naming and shaming the entire peacekeeping mission or troops/police contributing nations for the criminal deeds of any individual official. 

The representative of Switzerland said that since 2008, the Secretary-General has referred 219 allegations to Member States and to date more than three-quarters, or 175, remain unanswered.  “The numbers paint a dire picture of the commitment by Member States to provide for effective accountability.  We must do better,” he said.  In addition, it was important to understand whether gaps remain in jurisdiction established by Member States.  However, during the reporting period, 16 Member States, including 4 for the first time, have submitted information on how they exercise jurisdiction over their nationals.  As well, more States have commented on the report of the Group of Legal Experts of 2006, adding that he supported establishing an international legal framework to ensure effective accountability. 

The representative of Saudi Arabia highlighted the importance of preventing impunity for United Nations officials and experts on mission in order to ensure the credibility of the United Nations.  She stressed that such personnel must respect national laws and called for the institution of special measures to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse.  Further, United Nations legislative bodies must work towards coherent and coordinated policies and procedures relating to the investigation and reporting of credible allegations.  Most importantly, witnesses and victims must be protected.  She also pointed out the need for increased awareness of the protection against retaliation afforded to those who report such crimes.

The representative of Malaysia expressed concern that States sending officials and experts on United Nations missions have provided the United Nations with little to no information regarding the investigation or prosecution of 219 serious criminal offenses allegedly committed since 2007.  As the list of referred cases lengthens and States fail to provide necessary follow-up information, the pressure to address this problem increases.  He encouraged States that have not provided required information regarding these cases to do so, as Member States have the primary responsibility for establishing jurisdiction for crimes committed by their nationals serving on United Nations missions.  For its part, Malaysia’s peacekeeping center, established in 1996, continues to adapt to meet new standards and conduct and provides training for peacekeepers from South-East Asia and beyond.

The representative of Togo, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, encouraged the Secretariat to request that Member States providing personnel for United Nations missions certify that such personnel do not have criminal records and have not committed crimes.  Togo has deployed more than 1,400 men and women under the flag of the United Nations and, before serving abroad, these individuals receive required training at the peacekeeping training center in Lomé.  Further, since 21 April 2016, Togo’s military justice code allows for the prosecution of all crimes committed by active military and paramilitary personnel, regardless of where they are deployed.

The representative of Peru, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, pointed out that peacekeeping operations are a key tool available to the United Nations to achieve its objective of international peace and security.  She encouraged all Member States to cooperate, exchange information, facilitate investigations and extend mutual legal assistance, in accordance with domestic law, relating to criminal investigations involving serious crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts on mission.  She also welcomed the recommendation in the Secretary-General’s report that encouraged legislative bodies and United Nations agencies to ensure coherent, coordinated policies and procedures for the reporting and investigation of such crimes.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Malawi, Norway (also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden), United States, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Egypt, Russian Federation, Senegal, United Kingdom and South Africa, as well as a representative of the European Union delegation and observers from the Holy See and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

For information media. Not an official record.