Citing concerns over COVID-19, the General Assembly decided today to postpone, until 10-12 May 2021, the organizational session of the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes.
By the consensus decision, adopted as orally revised, the Assembly also confirmed that the report of the Ad Hoc Committee’s organizational session — including the agreed outline, modalities for its future activities, and any budgetary implications — will be submitted during the seventy-fifth session.
Established by resolution 74/247 in 2019, the Ad Hoc Committee was initially due to hold its three-day organizational session in New York in August 2020. However, the session was subsequently postponed until 20-22 January 2021, due to concerns about the pandemic. (See Press Release GA/12259)
The representative of the United Kingdom, introducing the draft decision, said his delegation sought postponement because Member States would be unable to participate equally, fairly, or with the required expertise, due to COVID-19. “This is not a simple subject,” he emphasized, pointing out that subject experts are based in Vienna, where cyber and crime issues fall under the purview of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Moreover, several delegations have expressed concern that they would be excluded if they were forced to hold the session at this time, he said, cautioning against convening any United Nations meeting in a manner that excludes or makes delegations feel ill-prepared. He went on to disagree that the first meeting would not require expertise, pointing out that it would cover the Ad Hoc Committee’s outline and modalities, procedural matters — including rules of procedure — timeline and schedule. He then read out an oral revision to paragraph (a), by which the Assembly would decide “to further postpone the organizational session of the Ad Hoc Committee mandated by paragraph 3 of resolution 74/247 to 10-12 May 2021”.
The representative of the Russian Federation said her delegation attaches importance to the prompt launch of the Ad Hoc Committee. “We were ready to begin such work in January,” she added, pointing to the Committee’s important tasks of choosing a chair and determining the time, location and number of meetings. Concerning the choice to postpone the organizational meeting over concerns about the inability of officials from State capitals to attend, she said “we do not agree”. The importance of launching negotiations outweighs concerns about any technical issues at play due to the pandemic, she emphasized. However, she welcomed the confirmation by the authors of today’s decision of the importance of fulfilling the Ad Hoc Committee’s mandate, saying that, on that basis, the Russian Federation does not object to it. The spirit of cooperation should guide the Ad Hoc Committee’s work, she added.
The representative of Nicaragua, recalling that her country co-sponsored resolution 74/247, said it would join the consensus today. Noting that the necessary arrangements for a significant number of meetings had been put in place at Headquarters, she expressed hope that procedural issues can be addressed. Electing a chair and a vice-chair will be the first steps for the organizational session, she added, underscoring the need for the United Nations to address the threats it faces.
The representative of China joined the consensus on the draft decision, noting that he understood this is a temporary measure. Holding the Committee’s organizational session as soon as possible is critical to implementing the relevant Assembly mandate and moving forward with the negotiation process, he added. Expressing regret that the organizational meeting was postponed, he stressed that the whole process should not be disrupted.
The representative of Nigeria, speaking after the adoption, said her delegation co-sponsored the decision because it is critical to ensure transparency, fairness and inclusivity, which no one can guarantee if only one person per delegation can participate in person. The same objectives can still be achieved within the revised schedule, she added.
The representative of the Dominican Republic expressed support for the draft decision, saying the minimal conditions for meeting in person “are not there at the moment”, due to the pandemic. Forging ahead would not lead to the best possible outcome, as curtailed travel and only one delegate permitted in the room would mean that countries such as his own would have no experts in New York. Some delegations did not heed the fact that many Member States favoured postponing the meeting, he noted. If conditions have not improved in May, the Secretariat will have the time needed to ensure that virtual arrangements can be made, he said, emphasizing the importance of transparency, impartiality and inclusivity.
The representative of Venezuela recalled that his delegation co-sponsored resolution 74/247 due to the exponential increase in cybercrime and common use of information and communications technologies. Since highly sensitive information is susceptible to criminal use, it is crucial that the United Nations make headway on formulating a convention in 2021 and that all Member States contribute transparently, he stressed. In the spirit of compromise, Venezuela does not oppose postponement of the meeting, he said.
The representative of Belarus emphasized that the start of the Committee’s activity is in everyone’s interest, noting that conditions have been suitable for the start of the organizational meeting, which does not require such expertise as some delegations stated. Belarus supported the decision in the spirit of cooperation, he said, while reiterating that missions in New York have the expertise to address the relevant issues.
The representative of Saudi Arabia expressed support for the inclusion of a new item — threat of use of technology for criminal purposes — in the Third Committee (Cultural, Humanitarian and Social). Pointing out the ease with which criminals can exploit existing legal loopholes, he urged States to enact domestic laws to punish them. Acting hastily in this matter would be counter-productive, he cautioned.
The representative of Malaysia, noting that States around the world face cybercrime-related challenges, stressed: “We cannot afford to allow such crimes to continue and permeate without addressing them.” That is the goal of the Ad Hoc Committee, he noted. While some prefer to proceed with next week, others would prefer to hold the organizational session at a later date, he said, adding, however: “We can empathize with both sides.” The fact that Member States have just adopted a decision by consensus, despite the challenging circumstances and varying views, is a testament to a consultative approach. Differences should be handled delicately. A fruitful organizational session, with all delegations participating, is “a must”, he said. That would ensure Member States are starting the deliberative process “on the right footing”. Consideration must be given to the reality of the pandemic, with interactions guided by local authorities and the United Nations, he said.
The representative of Syria said the wide digital gap compromises the capacity of many States to chase the perpetrators of cybercrime, especially terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Cyberspace is a safe haven for terrorist groups and requires a serious response, he added. Whereas Syria has taken measures to respond, enforcement of its legislation faces challenges, he said, noting that criminal investigations are complicated by the failure of advanced countries to exchange evidence with Syria and their monopoly of the Internet. Syria joins the consensus today from a belief in the importance of forging ahead in the Ad Hoc Committee.
The representative of Indonesia underlined the critical need to address the common threat posed by criminal groups misusing information and communications technology platforms, including by elaborating a convention. The pandemic prevented the Committee’s work in 2020, he said, underlining the need to start the organizational session as soon as possible. Indonesia hopes the meeting in May will provide a solid basis catering to the needs of all States, he added.
The representative of Cuba emphasized his delegation’s readiness to start the organizational session, which was already postponed once in 2020. Experts are already in New York as the session will only adopt the rules of procedure and elect officials leading the Committee’s work. Considering the concerns expressed, China joined the consensus because it is important to begin the work in a constructive spirit, he said.
At the meeting’s outset, Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, thanked delegations for their endorsement of the rules-based international order during the opening segment of the Assembly’s seventy-fifth session. There were 80 formal and informal plenary meetings, during which 257 resolutions and 67 decisions were adopted, he noted. “We have to be proud with what we have done.”
He then called attention to a 13 January letter from the Secretary-General (document A/75/661) informing the Assembly that 10 Member States — the Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Iran, Libya, Niger, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe — are in arrears in the payment of their financial contributions to the Organization, within the terms of Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations.
[Under Article 19, a Member of the United Nations in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due for the preceding two full years. The Assembly may permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the Member].
In other business, the Assembly appointed Mauritius to the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, for a term beginning on 15 January 2021 and ending on 15 September 2021.
The Assembly President noted that six vacancies remain for terms beginning on the date of appointment by the Assembly and ending on 15 September 2021, as follows: one member each from the African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States and Western European and other States, and two members from the Latin American and Caribbean States. In addition, 10 vacancies must be filled for terms beginning on 16 September 2021 and ending on 15 September 2023, as follows: two members each from the African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States and Western European and other States.
The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.