Delegates Conclude Debate on Protecting Persons in Event of Disasters, Take Up Universal Jurisdiction Scope, Application
While commending the flexibility with which the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law responded to the COVID‑19 pandemic, speakers in the Sixth Committee (Legal) urged the Programme to incorporate more diversity — including different regions and legal systems — into its educational offerings, and called for the return of the in‑person trainings that foster deep bonds among the international legal community.
Jessica M. Elbaz, Secretary of the Advisory Committee for the Programme of Assistance, introducing the Secretary‑General’s related report (document A/76/404), highlighted both the impact of the pandemic on the Programme’s activities and the high demand for them. Despite the pandemic, hundreds of applications were received for the Programme’s Regional Courses for professionals from developing countries, she noted.
The Codification Division, in response, conducted online workshops that catered to these circumstances, she said, but added that these courses are traditionally provided in person to allow for in‑depth discussions and the establishment of lasting links between participants. She also spotlighted the online offerings of the Audiovisual Library, which nearly two and a half million users around the world have used so far, and drew attention to the Programme’s continued investment in its students with the creation of an alumni network.
Harold Adlai Agyeman of Ghana, Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Programme of Assistance, underlined the importance of strengthening international legal education for the functioning of an interdependent world that must address a myriad of global issues, including climate change, terrorism, the law of the sea and artificial intelligence.
The Programme, he pointed out, provides not only academic opportunities, but also helps build lasting ties for multilateral cooperation, which benefits the Sixth Committee’s work. While the online content can serve as an interim capacity‑building measure in lieu of cancelled training courses, he voiced concern about the lack of reliable internet connectivity, which poses a challenge for students from developing countries, and stressed the value of the traditional, in‑person format.
The value of in‑person engagement was also highlighted by Alice Hicuburundi, Senior Legal Officer of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, who provided an update on the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship on the Law of the Sea. She noted that the 2020 Fellow opted to defer her Fellowship until 2022, in the hopes that it can be undertaken in person.
Noting that 33 Fellows from 30 developing countries have completed their Fellowships since its establishment in 1981 and are now making important contributions in their respective countries and regions, she encouraged voluntary contributions to the Fellowship to ensure that developing countries build the capacity to participate in ocean‑related processes.
In the ensuing debate, many delegates echoed the importance of international legal education and encouraged the Programme to return to in‑person courses when it was able to do so.
The representative of the Republic of Moldova called for a more uniform practice that excludes remote self‑paced learning curricula, as she observed that “a wide range of ununiform solutions were implemented to various regional groups.” She also encouraged the Codification Division to explore organizing virtual classrooms for participants from all regional groups.
Lebanon’s delegate welcomed the personalized, remote training programs that offered a remedy when the pandemic prevented in‑person training courses, which are the Programme’s flagship activity. However, these virtual programs must be considered temporary, he insisted, also suggesting that the Programme should choose more teachers from developing countries and aim for greater linguistic diversity in order to promote a balance between different legal cultures and systems.
Portugal’s representative, along with several other delegates, took up the call for diversity, noting that the Library must include contents in languages that have demographic and cross‑regional significance. Portuguese is the single most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere, he noted, also calling for more promotion of the Programme’s activities. “The general public does not seem to be sufficiently aware of it,” he observed.
Sierra Leone’s delegate commended how the Programme pivoted to innovative online formats in response to the pandemic. She also drew attention to the variety of topics in the online workshops, but voiced concern about decreasing female participation and called for gender parity.
The representative of Thailand also touted the Programme’s use of as many modes of communication as possible, including podcasts, online courses and off‑site recording sessions. Still, she urged that updates to the Audiovisual Library’s website be made — especially its user‑interface design — to make it more user‑friendly and appealing to the younger generation of international law enthusiasts.
The Sixth Committee also concluded its debate on protection of persons in the event of disasters today, with many delegates stressing the importance of international cooperation in preventing, preparing for and tackling disasters. Indonesia’s delegate welcomed the reference in draft article 6 to those who are “particularly vulnerable”, while the representative of Tonga reminded delegates that for a small country, “any natural disaster is a national disaster.” (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3640.)
The Committee also began its consideration of the Secretary‑General’s report on the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction (document A/76/203).
Morocco’s delegate, speaking for the African Group, which had requested the Committee in 2009 to consider the principle’s uncertain scope and application, noted that Non‑African States are inclined to apply universal jurisdiction on African officials, without their consent or cooperation, outside of multilateral processes. Highlighting the African Union’s model law on the principle as a template for developing legislation that limits its misuse, she said that, though the Committee has spent 10 years intensely debating and taking small steps, the scope of universal jurisdiction remains uncertain.
However, Liechtenstein’s delegate said that the scope of universal jurisdiction is sufficiently clear from existing treaty law and customary international law. The current political dynamic in the Security Council prevents it from providing the International Criminal Court with jurisdiction for serious crimes. That makes the application of universal jurisdiction all the more important, he pointed out, also welcoming the recent Koblenz trials in Germany — which led to a judgment against a Syrian national involved in crimes against humanity .
Countering that, the representative of Syria voiced concern about the politicization of the principle, stressing that there is no common understanding of its scope and application. Calling for absolute respect for the immunity of State representatives and the sovereign equality between States, he denounced the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to facilitate investigations into the most serious violations of international law committed in Syria.
Also speaking today in the debate on the protection of persons in the event of disasters were the representatives of Morocco (for the African Group), Solomon Islands, Cambodia, Jordan, Cameroon and Haiti.
Speaking during the debate on the Programme of Assistance were the representatives of Morocco (for the African Group), Cambodia (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Finland (also speaking for Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), Singapore, South Africa, Iran, Cuba, Philippines, Egypt, Colombia, Qatar, China, United States, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Ethiopia, Cameroon, United Kingdom, Ireland, Sudan, Malaysia, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Algeria, Jamaica and the Russian Federation. A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also spoke during that debate.
Also speaking during the debate on universal jurisdiction were the representatives of Iran (for the Non‑Aligned Movement), Sweden (also speaking for Denmark, Iceland and Norway), New Zealand (also speaking for Canada and Australia), Singapore, Sierra Leone, Iran (in national capacity), Cuba, Philippines, Venezuela, South Africa, Qatar, China, Pakistan, United States, Israel, Brazil, El Salvador, Oman, Slovakia, Mexico, Burkina Faso, Switzerland, Czech Republic, India, Slovenia, Egypt and Ethiopia, as well as a representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer.
The Sixth Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 22 October, to continue its consideration of the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters
AAHDE LAHMIRI (Morocco), speaking for the African Group, expressed concern over the frequency and severity of natural disasters — exacerbated by climate change — and their impact on societies and the Sustainable Development Goals. Increasing in number and scale, these phenomena cause massive loss of life, food insecurity, water shortages, displacement and long-term negative socioenvironmental consequences all over the world, particularly in Africa.
She went on to emphasize the importance of international cooperation when responding to such events. Towards this end, she welcomed further discussion on this topic, including on the elaboration of a convention based on the draft articles of the International Law Commission on the protection of persons in the event of disasters.
MOHAMED FAIZ BOUCHEDOUB (Algeria), aligning himself with the African Group, said that producing a legal framework for the protection of persons in the event of disasters would fill a gap in the current legal regime. The majority of relevant legal instruments in existence are non-binding and there is little legal harmony between them, particularly when it comes to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The draft articles contribute to promoting the rule of law by balancing the rights of people affected by disasters on the one hand, and the principle of State sovereignty on the other. However, the draft articles interpret disasters in a broad, vague way, which could give rise to ambiguities. On this, he emphasized the need to clearly distinguish between the legal regime that governs natural disasters and that which pertains to man-made disasters.
MUHAMMAD TAUFAN (Indonesia), noting that his country sits atop three tectonic plates which form a volatile seismic strip called the “Ring of Fire,” said Indonesia constantly faces risks from seismic activity. The Committee’s deliberations on the legal framework for protection of persons in the event of disaster is of paramount importance to deepen comprehension, promote international cooperation and share best practices. Welcoming the reference in draft article 6 to those who are “particularly vulnerable”, he also cited references to the duty to cooperate, stressing that the exercise of such duty should only be taken in light of the principle of sovereignty upon which the draft articles rest. Indonesia is at the forefront of disaster-prone countries that have developed, and are continuing to develop, comprehensive legal regimes in support of the entire disaster management spectrum, he said, recalling that such a system was not in place in Indonesia in 2004 when a tsunami struck the Aceh province.
JEANETT VEA (Tonga), noting that the World Risk Report ranked Tonga the third most-at-risk country to disaster in 2020, said such crises take both an economic and human toll, as cyclones, coastal erosion, flash flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis can wipe out infrastructure, homes, businesses and agriculture overnight. The Government’s 2017 resettlement policy aims to bring vulnerable housing to a cyclone-resistant standard. She welcomed the International Law Commission’s draft articles, stressing that for a small country, “any natural disaster is a national disaster”; any such legal development must be accompanied by comprehensive international assistance to the small island developing States. Urging developed countries to honour their climate and resilience financing commitments, she said that the international community must assist vulnerable States before and after disaster strikes, with measures to relieve affected persons. “We anticipate a constructive dialogue to determine the appropriate way forward,” she added, welcoming the sharing of best practices.
NOEL MARTIN MATEA (Solomon Islands), associating himself with the Association of Small Island States, said that sea-level rise and climate-change-induced natural disasters are an existential threat to countries such as his. The economic cost of such events is beyond the capacity of individual countries, he stressed, noting that the impact of climate change in his State is three times the global average. Internal displacement has become a new normal for his people, he said, adding that the draft articles represent an important starting point for a thorough agreement. Stressing the obligation to cooperate in preventing, preparing for and tackling disasters, he highlighted the importance of draft article 9 and its focus on disaster risk reduction. Human-made disasters should be included in the scope of the draft articles, he said.
SOMALY CHEA (Cambodia) said that her country has been working to prevent, reduce and respond to the risk of disasters, giving great attention to the protection of people during and post-disaster period. Her Government established the National Committee for Disaster Management in 1995 to lead the country’s capacity-building for prevention, preparedness and response; passed the Law on Disaster Management in 2015; and has in place the Strategic National Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction which has been updated. As a party to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, Cambodia is also fully committed to regional and international cooperation in disaster response, she said, adding that the draft articles would contribute to progressive development of international law governing disaster response.
ALAA NAYEF ZAID AL-EDWAN (Jordan) said that while the draft articles mention the principle of solidarity in its preamble, it does not reflect that principle in the form of specific obligations on States that can provide relief assistance. The duty of cooperation under draft article 7 should be read in an expansive manner to develop an obligation on such States. The draft articles are lex generalis that applies to the extent that international humanitarian law does not in a disaster situation. They fill a gap and do not prejudice any wider protection under the relevant rules of international humanitarian law, including the rights of relief and towards humanitarian organizations during armed conflict. He added that he supported elaboration of a convention based on the draft articles and called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee or working group to discuss the text and Member States’ observations, potentially culminating in the adoption of a convention, he said.
ZACHARIE SERGE RAOUL NYANID (Cameroon), noting the imperative importance of protecting persons in disaster, said that the safety of individuals is a key concern of modern societies. International human rights laws affirm that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, he pointed out, recalling the Lake Nyos disaster in his country. Expressing reservations about the draft articles under consideration, he said that they conflate natural and manmade disasters, which are very different situations. Calling for a clear distinction between the two, he pointed to draft article 3 which causes uncertainty as to whether an epidemic or a pandemic can also be considered a disaster.
WISNIQUE PANIER (Haiti) welcomed the draft articles of the International Law Commission, stressing that those texts aim to reduce risks and facilitate an adequate and effective response to disasters that meets the needs of those affected. The entire history of Haiti is marked by disasters, which has hindered its development, he pointed out. His Government adopted legislative and regulatory provisions, especially following the earthquake of 2010. Among other initiatives, he highlighted the adoption of a national plan spanning from 2019 to 2030. He also encouraged the establishment of a mechanism to ensure transparency of post-disaster spending. Haiti has received several billions of dollars in aid over the past 10 years, but these billions spent have not taken into account the needs and strategies of the country, he stated, adding that “the international community must ensure that the victims are the real beneficiaries”.
Programme of Assistance
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, provided an overview of the Advisory Committee’s work during its fifty-sixth session. He stressed that the Programme not only provides academic opportunities, but also helps build lasting ties for multilateral cooperation, which benefits the Sixth Committee’s work. Noting that the United Nations International Law Fellowship Programme and the United Nations Regional Courses in International Law could not be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, he spotlighted the provision of interactive online workshops on a wide range of topics in international law by the Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.
Although this online content can serve as an interim capacity-building measure for cancelled training courses, he pointed out that a lack of reliable internet connectivity inhibited participation by some developing countries. Accordingly, he stressed the need to resume traditional, in-person format for the Fellowship Programme and Regional Courses as soon as possible. Turning to the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, he emphasized the need for greater linguistic diversity in its content, but also stressed that resources must be first directed to the six official languages. It is imperative to strengthen the teaching and learning of international law today, he added, as its rules and principles remain essential for the functioning of an interdependent world and for addressing issues such as climate change, terrorism, the law of the sea and artificial intelligence.
JESSICA M. ELBAZ, Secretary of the Advisory Committee for the Programme of Assistance, highlighted the impact of the pandemic on its activities. The Fellowship Programme and the three Regional Courses, courses for professionals from developing countries in international law by specialists from diverse regions and legal systems, are traditionally provided in person. This allows for in-depth discussions and the establishment of lasting links between participants. Yet, despite the pandemic, hundreds of applications were received. Thus, the Codification Division conducted online workshops, including a regional workshop for Africa on international human rights law and one for Latin America and the Caribbean, which focused on the law of State responsibility. Noting that the regional workshop for Asia and the Pacific is planned for the middle of November, she highlighted the challenge posed by lack of access to a reliable Internet connection. Several participants were not able to participate at all, while others were disconnected during the sessions. More so, she pointed out that even though the sessions were interactive, they cannot in any way replace the in-depth discussions and connections that occur during in-person activities.
Turning to the Audiovisual Library, she said it has been consulted by nearly two and a half million users around the world since its inception. The circumstances of the pandemic demonstrate the importance of a virtual training and research centre, and the need to continue to maintain and enrich it, she said. Drawing attention to the creation of a network for the alumni of the training programmes, she said the Codification Division conducted six virtual sessions, allowing the alumni to have exchanges with speakers from the Audiovisual Library on the subject of their lectures. Noting lively discussions of various different subjects such as peace and security, the elimination of discrimination against women and international environmental law, she expressed gratitude to the General Assembly for having placed the Programme under the regular budget. However, voluntary contributions remain essential for the Programme to reach its full potential, she said, thanking those countries that had made such contributions.
ALICE HICUBURUNDI, Senior Legal Officer of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, gave an overview of the current implementation of the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship on the Law of the Sea, recalling that the Fellowship was established in 1981 to help Government officials and other professionals from developing States gain additional knowledge about the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As of October, 33 Fellows from 30 developing countries have completed their Fellowships, she noted, describing them as “professionals who are now making important contributions in their respective countries and regions”. However, because of international travel restrictions due to the pandemic and related situation in New York, the 2020 Fellowship was tentatively postponed to 2021.
Given the continued travel restrictions during the fall of this year, the 2020 Fellow was given the choice to undertake a virtual Fellowship in 2021 or defer the Fellowship until 2022, in the hopes that it can be undertaken in‑person, she pointed out. In addition, developing countries must build and maintain the capacity to actively participate in ocean-related processes. Therefore, it is essential that the Fellowships granted under this programme be implemented in a continuous and consistent manner. Necessary funds must be made available. She also recalled that no scholarships were allocated from 2007 to 2009, and in 2014, due to lack of funds. “We strongly encourage voluntary contributions for future Fellows,” she said.
AAHDE LAHMIRI (Morocco), speaking for the African Group, said that the Programme of Assistance is a key tool for enhancing all Member States’ capacity to participate in the international order on an equal basis. The General Assembly has recognized that improved, universal knowledge of international law plays an inherent role in maintaining international peace and security, and facilitating friendly relations among States. Therefore, the Programme directly serves the principles of the United Nations and the foundation of the global order; it constitutes an important assistive tool for the implementation of United Nations programs and activities worldwide.
She also emphasized the importance of disseminating knowledge and building capacity for legal professionals worldwide, especially in Africa. The Regional Course in International Law for Africa saw the highest number of applications. The interest of African lawyers, Government officials and experts in the Programme — along with increased use of the Audiovisual Library — underscores the need for developing international-law capacity. While welcoming the Codification Division’s use of innovative measures to ensure continuity of its work, she stressed the importance of providing in-person programmes. She also called on Member States to support the Programme’s financing through the regular budget.
SIMONA POPAN, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that respect for the principles of international law is enshrined in the founding treaty of the bloc. Reaffirming commitment to the Programme as an important tool for legal education at the national and international levels, she said that it has trained brilliant legal minds and demonstrated its value. The Fellowship Programme and the Regional Courses have greatly contributed to the formation of generations of specialists and the Audiovisual Library benefits students throughout the world. However, during the unprecedented times caused by the pandemic, the Library has particular relevance, she pointed out, adding that the lecture series covers a variety of relevant topics.
She highlighted the need for lingual inclusivity, adding that the lecture series and other study materials would benefit a wider group of enthusiastic legal scholars and students if they were offered in more languages than the six official languages. Emphasizing the importance of multilingualism in enhancing access, she said that the Programme must aim to teach disadvantaged students wherever they are. As well, the Programme should consider offline study materials that can be accessed with basic mobile technologies. That could narrow the gap between those who have access to e-learning and those who do not, she said.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia), speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that the implementation of the Programme of Assistance was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The traditional in-person training programs, namely, the three United Nations Regional Courses in International Law for Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as the International Law Fellowship Programme, had to be cancelled due to the global spread of the virus. He commended the Codification Division for effectively addressing the unforeseen circumstances by providing remote self-paced learning curriculum to those participants whose training programs were cancelled. However, he stressed that remote self-paced learning curriculum should not become a de-facto substitute for live in-person trainings under the Programme of Assistance, nor should it be used as justification to reduce or cut the regular budget funds.
Expressing support for the financing of the Programme through the regular United Nations budget, he encouraged voluntary contributions. The use of information and communications technologies, including the United Nations Audiovisual Library, should be explored as a way to add value to live in-person trainings and not to serve as a substitute for them, he stressed. The Programme’s in-person trainings provides an invaluable experience to the participants, who learn from one another through engaging discussion and sharing of worldviews on legal culture and traditions. In this way, the Programme helps build close-knit bonds between the participants and promotes cooperation among future colleagues. The Codification Division has compiled information and launched a platform for the alumni of the training programs, organized under the Programme of Assistance, to exchange information and disseminate training materials.
VIRPI LAUKANNEN (Finland), also speaking for Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, said the world’s critical rules‑based order depends largely on the professionalism and commitment of people acting on behalf of the States. Through the Programme of Assistance, generations of Government lawyers, judges and diplomats from around the globe have been able to gain a deeper understanding of the body of law that governs today’s interconnected world. This benefits the international community as a whole. Noting the Programme’s significant contributions, she commended the active and continued engagement of the Codification Division in pursuing its mandate regarding the Programme. The International Law Fellowship Programme, as well as the Regional Courses, have been instrumental in providing international law training for young lawyers.
Noting that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the organization of the Programme’s courses to their full extent, she commended the Codification Division for exploring innovative ways to pursue the Programme’s objectives despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. She also praised the continuous development of the Audiovisual Library, citing additional measures undertaken to bolster it in response to COVID-19. “The Library’s resources have been of particular relevance during [the pandemic], which necessitated a quick transformation of the traditional methods of learning into online education,” she observed.
KENNETH WONG (Singapore) said the Programme of Assistance is contributing to a greater adherence to international law. He commended the Codification Division of the Office of Legal Affairs for its efforts in implementing the Programme during the pandemic. While he regretted that the Regional Courses could not proceed as planned, he said he was pleased that online training opportunities are continuing to be available until face-to-face activities can safely resume. The International Law Audiovisual Library is a particularly valuable resource, he noted, suggesting that lecturers be encouraged to provide presentation slides or other visual aids for uploading to the website to help users follow the courses and more easily remember their content.
THABO MICHAEL MOLEFE (South Africa), aligning himself with the African Group, called for broad support for the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Understanding of International Law. The Programme is a key tool for enhancing all Member States’ capacity to participate in the international order on an equal basis. He also said that he considers the Audiovisual Library to be an essential tool, specifically spotlighting the Lecture Series podcasts. The Regional Courses in international law, particularly in Africa, are a great success, he stressed. He called on Member States to voluntarily contribute to the Program of Assistance.
MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran) observed that the Regional Courses and the Fellowship Programme provide a valuable venue for participants to exchange their views, share experiences and ideas, as well as improve intercultural understanding and dialogue. In that context, he suggested that geographical representation among the lecturers should also be considered. Further, the synergies between international law and international relations should be established as one of the permanent curricula of the seminars. Being that the United Nations is one of the main sources for the development, codification and dissemination of international law, the United Nations digital library and the Organization’s Yearbook are two of the most valuable repositories, containing a multitude of works collected and examined over the course of its history.
ARIANNA CARRAL CASTELO (Cuba) welcomed the Codification Division’s work in implementing the Programme and expressed hope that those events suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic will soon resume. The Programme has become an effective tool, benefitting many jurists, academics and public officials in developing countries around the world. She pointed out, however, that some small developing countries cannot fully participate in the Programme, due to limited funding or a situation like Cuba’s, in which the United States has imposed an economic, commercial and financial blockade for over 60 years. The Programme’s activities, therefore, must be included in the United Nations regular budget in order to facilitate participation by all countries.
ELAINE DIANA LIM LORENZO (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN, noted her appreciation for the online training programmes that were offered in lieu of the in-person trainings, as well as the online continuing education activities provided to the alumni of the training programmes. However, there is value in the traditional in-person training programs. Filipino nationals have benefitted from and participated in various activities of the Programme of Assistance, which has helped in strengthening their capacities in international law and in the establishment of vital networks of contacts in the field of international law. Noting the Philippines’ commitment in its continued contributions to the Programme of Assistance, she encouraged all Member States with the means to do so to make voluntary contributions as well.
AHMED ABDELAZIZ AHMED ELGHARIB (Egypt), associating himself with the African Group, expressed appreciation for the Codification Division and the Advisory Committee, underscoring that the Programme plays an important role in building the capacity of developing countries in international law. This directly served the common aim of enhancing rule of law at the international level. He also praised the Codification Division for its innovative solutions in continuing the work of the Programme during the Covid-19 pandemic, including through the pilot remote workshops on international law topics. In this context, he noted that the work of the Programme of Assistance could benefit from a greater geographical representation of lecturers, especially from Africa and the Middle East, and North Africa region. He also encouraged the Programme to focus training activities on new and emerging issues of international law.
AUGUSTINA ȘIMAN (Republic of Moldova), associating herself with the European Union, expressed concern, in particular to the training programmes, saying, “We observe that a wide range of ununiform solutions were implemented to various regional groups.” Noting the important purpose of the Programme of Assistance, she called for a more uniform practice that excludes remote self‑paced learning curricula. She also encouraged the Codification Division to explore organizing on-line courses or virtual classrooms for participants from all regional groups, thus enabling the professors and the participants to engage in active discussions. Without travel or accommodation costs involved, that format could be an opportunity for more professionals from developing countries to participate, contributing to the wider appreciation of international law. She affirmed that her delegation stands ready to engage in productive discussions to revise and better adapt the Programme of Assistance to the circumstances arising from the pandemic.
LUCIA TERESA SOLANO RAMIREZ (Colombia), noting the pandemic’s impact on the Programme activities, welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts to continue supporting States and their representatives through virtual learning and online interactive courses offered by the Codification Division. Colombia has benefitted considerably from Programme activities, particularly those that allow for continued education for alumni. She expressed hope, however, for a return to the traditional, in-person format for training as soon as possible. She also encouraged the Codification Division to promote diversity among participants and teaching staff. It is vital to allow new voices to access the realm of international law “to overcome stereotypes and better reflect the knowledge of a heterogenous core of legal professionals,” she pointed out. Further, better access to content in the six official languages will ensure participation for all stakeholders, she added.
ALI AHMAD M. A. ALMANSOURI (Qatar), stressing the important role of the Programme of Assistance in increasing understanding of international law, said that it has provided assistance to generations of legal practitioners and academics. Noting that the financial challenges faced by the Programme can undermine the continuity of the valuable work it does, he said that his Government ensures that many Qatari legal practitioners take advantage of the Programme. Ensuring reliable funding will continue to support the dissemination of international law, he said, adding that his country will continue to support the Programme financially.
SERGIO AMARAL ALVES DE CARVALHO (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union, said that despite the Programme’s many contributions, “the general public does not seem to be sufficiently aware of it”. He encouraged Member States to promote the Programme at home, across academic institutions, public administration and other organizations in order to make students, young scholars and young professionals aware of it. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that reliable distance learning and remote training tools, including the Audiovisual Library, can have a positive impact and bridge inequality gaps. The Office of Legal Affairs made the most of those tools during the pandemic. He reiterated Portugal’s calls for the Library to also expand its inclusivity by having contents in languages that, albeit not official languages of the United Nations, have demographic and cross-regional significance. In that regard, Portuguese is the one of the most-spoken languages in the world and the single most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere.
ZHAO YANRUI (China), noting that the Programme of Assistance has provided important impetus to the study of international law, said it has promoted the capacity-building of many developing countries. Highlighting the fruitful work carried out by the Codification Division, she said that during the pandemic, it defied all odds to give students an opportunity to interact with legal scholars, in addition to offering various publications. Her Government has contributed financially to the Programme’s work in different areas, she said, adding that China also directly supports capacity-building in Asian and African countries in international law, as illustrated by the China-AALCO Exchange and Research Program on International Law.
ELIZABETH MARYANNE GROSSO (United States), noting her country’s participation in the Advisory Committee, said that the Programmme of Assistance merits the continuing, strong support of all Member States so that it can thrive for years to come. While it is disappointing that the Regional Courses and Fellowship events could not be held in-person this year, she commended the Programme of Action’s nimble adaptation to the working conditions of COVID-19. The Codification Division was able to share remote, self-paced versions of essential training, as well as pilot versions of real-time online workshops on important topics, including the peaceful settlement of disputes and the law of State responsibility. She also highlighted the Programme of Action’s progress in developing its alumni network and improving the accessibility and content of the Audiovisual Library of International Law. In that regard, she stressed that the Library is a more valuable resource than ever, as scholars around the world continue to rely on remote learning.
LIGIA LORENA FLORES SOTO (El Salvador) said that the value of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, together with the Fellowship Programme, has contributed to the training of officials from different legal systems and regions of the world. She added that she was particularly pleased with the increase in the number of subjects developed, such as international space law, international watercourse law and international regulation of biotechnology, among others. In line with her support for multilingualism, she considered that a publication in the six official languages of the United Nations would represent a relevant contribution and would ensure greater access to information in the different regions of the world.
NATALIA JIMÉNEZ ALEGRÍA (Mexico) said that, in a world of massive migration and a widening North-South divide, the promotion of international law is fundamental. The role of the Programme of Assistance is to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries, which the pandemic has aggravated, she said. Highlighting the new contents offered by the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, she said she hoped for a better respect of multilingualism in these contents. Her country regularly organizes activities for the dissemination of international law, she noted.
Mr. HITTI (Lebanon) pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the organization of in-person training courses — the flagship activity of the Programme of Assistance. He welcomed the Codification Division’s provision of personalized, remote training programs to remedy this absence. However, these virtual programs must be considered temporary measures; in-person training programs must resume as soon as possible. He also called for broader geographic diversity among the lecturers and teachers for Programme activities, suggesting that more could come from developing countries in regions such as North Africa and the Middle East. Further, greater linguistic diversity would foster inclusion and promote a balance between different legal cultures and systems.
JOSE JUAN HERNANDEZ CHAVEZ (Chile), highlighting the Programme’s inclusion in the regular budget, emphasized the need for a solid assistance mechanism that is sustainably resourced. While expressing regret that the Regional Course in International Law for Latin America and the Caribbean was not held in person in 2020 and 2021, he welcomed the Codification Division’s provision of interactive online sessions this year. The international community must respond to current challenges with a forward-looking approach and the Programme encourages young jurists and diplomats towards this end. He also welcomed work on the Audiovisual Library, expressing hope that it will continue to provide content in all official United Nations languages and, specifically, make the International Law Handbook available in Spanish.
HAWANATU KEBE (Sierra Leone), commending the Codification Division and its committed staff for the effective implementation of the Programme of Assistance, noted that its activities, though not carried out as planned, pivoted to innovative online formats. Encouraging this efficient use of available resources, she said that the Regional Courses complement the Fellowship, together creating a valuable programme of legal education for students from developing countries. She also took note of the variety of topics in the online workshops and the continued utilization of the alumni network, but voiced concern about the decreasing female participation.
Ms. BETACHEW BIRHANU (Ethiopia) said that the Programme is a crucial component of multilateralism by enabling practitioners to stay up-to-date in international law. Her country has hosted the regional workshop for Africa for many years, she said, calling it a grand opportunity for students to attain training, while forming interpersonal links. Expressing support for enhancing the reach of the Programme, she thanked the States who made financial contributions. She highlighted the efforts made to continue the Programme during the pandemic, including through virtual learning opportunities. However, she also noted that the Secretary-General’s report accurately emphasizes the value of in-person training. In that regard, she said she looked forward to receiving the next cohort of students in Addis Ababa.
Mr. NYANID (Cameroon), expressing his support for the Fellowship Programme, said he hoped that the number of participants will be increased. As well, strengthening the Audiovisual Library will allow the Organization to offer online training at a lower cost, to an unlimited number of people and institutions around the world. The Programme must allow participants to confront certain aspects of globalized international law. It should introduce complex issues related to the emergence of new actors in international law, such as multinationals or transnational corporations. In addition, it should address the applicability of certain norms of international law in the grey areas of international law, and attempt to solve legal problems in new contexts, such as migrant workers’ rights, freedom of expression and the information technology revolution.
JONATHAN SAMUEL HOLLIS (United Kingdom) said the Programme of Assistance plays an important role in the delivery of international law training and dissemination of legal knowledge around the world. It facilitates the effective participation of diverse countries in multilateral frameworks and fora. In so doing, the Programme makes an effective contribution to the rule of law, to the promotion of friendly relations, and to the strengthening of international peace and security. The United Kingdom, he said, continues to make voluntary contributions to the Programme and supports the International Law Seminar, the Audiovisual Library of International Law, and the Trust Fund for the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
SIOBHÁN MILEY (Ireland) noting that the pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, highlighted the online educational activities and online lectures organized by the Codification Division, the Regional Courses as well as the International Law Fellowship Programme — all of which are supported by Ireland through annual contributions. Commending the Codification Division for establishing the alumni network of training programmes’ participants, organized under the Programme of Assistance, she also pointed to the success of the Audiovisual Library, which is also supported by Ireland. The recent efforts to facilitate access to the Library’s lectures through social media and the Library podcast are commendable, she said, encouraging further reflection on how to facilitate quicker and easier access to this important resource. The work of the Programme of Assistance is very important to broaden awareness and promote a greater understanding of international law. In this regard, she encouraged other States to consider supporting its worthy initiatives.
Mr. MOHAMMED (Sudan), aligning himself with the African Group, stressed the importance of the Programme of Assistance in the promotion of the rule of law and commended the work of the Codification Division. He also highlighted the contribution of the Audiovisual Library of International Law. He called for more resources for the Programme, particularly to ensure the holding of the Regional Courses. As well, he welcomed the support of some countries for the Programme and called on Member States to pay more attention to it.
THARARUT HANLUMYUANG (Thailand), aligning herself with ASEAN, emphasized that the dissemination of legal knowledge must be carried out in an inclusive manner, adding that she supported the use of as many modes of communication as possible, including podcasts, online courses and off‑site recording sessions. She also said that the Audiovisual Library’s website should be updated — especially its user‑interface design — to make it more user‑friendly and more appealing to the younger generation of international law enthusiasts. Further, she encouraged States to link their treaty databases with the website in order to achieve seamless connectivity between treaty databases worldwide. The provision of remote learning tools, she added, should not become a substitute for in‑person training. To that end, she said that Thailand looks forward to hosting the Regional Course in International Law for Asia‑Pacific in Bangkok as soon as conditions permit.
MOHD HAFIZ BIN OTHMAN (Malaysia) commended the efforts of the Codification Division in exploring innovative means to continue pursuing the objectives of the Programme, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic for the second year in a row. The remote self-paced learning curriculum drew on readily available resources such as the International Law Handbook and the Audiovisual Library. While these online measures could not replace the in-depth exchanges and long-lasting bonds created with in-person trainings, she said that the Programme must continue to use information and communications technologies to disseminate knowledge of international law to a broader audience.
AAHDE LAHMIRI (Morocco), associating herself with the African Group, said that the Programme of Assistance has helped generations of practitioners, jurists and judges improve their understanding of international law. The high number of applications for its Regional Courses demonstrates both the strength of the Programme and the need to bolster Member State capacity in international law. She expressed regret that the pandemic prevented the holding of the Regional Courses and, while welcoming the Codification Division’s virtual offerings, called for a return to in‑person classes as soon as possible. The pandemic also demonstrated the need for teaching and learning online. In this regard, she emphasized the importance of the Audiovisual Library as well as efforts to improve its accessibility.
MOON YOUNG KIM (Republic of Korea) urged Member States to make the Programme more widely known and available to their universities and academia, and include its materials in the training of civil servants and diplomats. At the national level, her Government holds an annual moot court competition and awards a best thesis on public international law topics. As well, in‑person lectures and trainings at the Seoul Academy of International Law and Yeosu Academy of the Law of the Sea will resume this year. She also encouraged ways to broaden the audience, adding that making lectures available as podcasts has been a good example. Shorter versions, like miniseries, have great potential to introduce the basics of international law and to make it more relevant to the public. Further, the diversity of legal traditions needs to be borne in mind when designing and planning trainings. Only then can those efforts enrich the current interactions of international law and help bridge geographical imbalances.
MOHAMED FAIZ BOUCHEDOUB (Algeria), stressing the importance of deepening knowledge of international law, said the Programme plays a crucial role in strengthening the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and bringing about peace and security. The increase in applications for the Regional Courses organized by the Codification Division is evidence of the vitality and success of the Programme as well as of the demand from States for capacity‑building in international law. The Codification Division has been dynamic and proactive in its approach to continuing its activities online, he said, noting that of the 53 African countries, 27 sent in applications for the regional workshops. Also voicing support for the establishment of the alumni network, he called for a wider linguistic variety of content in the Audiovisual Library.
KAVOY ANTHONY ASHLEY (Jamaica) emphasized that the Programme of Assistance meets a critical need for capacity‑building in international law and diplomacy, especially for developing States. He commended the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs and the Codification Division for their efforts in executing the Programme’s activities despite challenges posed by the pandemic. Regretting that the 2021 Regional Course in International Law for Latin America and the Caribbean could not take place in person, he nevertheless noted that his country could benefit from its amended online version. He also underscored that interpersonal engagements have an added benefit of strengthening relationships between States. In that regard, he welcomed plans for the resumption of the in‑person training programmes in 2022, adding his thanks to States for their contributions to ensure sustainability of the Programme.
ALEXANDER S. PROSKURYAKOV (Russian Federation), noting the pandemic’s effect on the implementation of the Programme of Assistance, praised its decisive and effective conduct during the current difficult circumstances. The replacement of the Regional Courses with remote learning should remain a temporary measure necessitated by the situation, he stressed, adding that remote courses cannot substitute for the unique experience of live professional communication with eminent experts and practitioners. Voicing the hope that the courses in the Programme’s framework will return to in-person mode, he also welcomed efforts to complement the Audiovisual Library.
Scope and Application of Universal Jurisdiction
Mr. NAJAFABADI (Iran), speaking for the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that national courts that invoke the principle of universal jurisdiction against senior officials enjoying immunity violate the sovereignty of States. He recalled the context that saw the inclusion of this item on the agenda. In February 2009, the African Group requested its inclusion to remedy the uncertain scope of the principle and its abuses; the Group was alarmed by the implications of this principle on the sovereignty of the States concerned and asked for clarification to avoid any misapplication of the principle.
He went on to warn against any unjustified extension of the offences subject to such a principle and called for the establishment of a mechanism to prevent any abuse in its application. Universal jurisdiction must not replace other jurisdictions, namely the jurisdiction of the State of territory and the State of nationality, he said. Adding that he considered it premature to ask the International Law Commission to conduct a study on all aspects of the principle, he called for judicious and responsible application of universal jurisdiction in accordance with international law.
Ms. LAHMIRI (Morocco), speaking for the African Group and associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, underscored the importance of this topic for the Group’s 54 Member States. She recalled the history leading to its inclusion on the Sixth Committee’s agenda, namely that an abuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction — particularly in relation to African officials — led to a request in 2009 for the Committee to consider the principle’s uncertain scope and application. Noting that the Committee has spent a great deal of time intensely debating and taking small steps collectively on this subject, she said this undermines addressing the use and misuse of the universality principle, which should concern all Member States. The Committee has failed to address the real concerns that necessitated the addition of this topic to its agenda, and for more than 10 years, the scope of universal jurisdiction has remained uncertain.
Non‑African States, she pointed out, are inclined to apply the principle of universal jurisdiction on African officials, outside of multilateral processes and without the consent or cooperation of the African States concerned. This consent and cooperation — when regulated in the multilateral system — can limit the misuse and abuse of universal jurisdiction, which should be complementary to the national jurisdiction of the concerned country. Further, the principle cannot be applied in contravention of those of international law, including State sovereignty and diplomatic immunity. Stressing that agreed‑upon norms must be established regarding the scope and application of universal jurisdiction, she said that the African Union’s model law on the subject offers a template for developing universal jurisdiction legislation that suits domestic peculiarities and limits misuse of the principle.
Ms. POPAN, representative of the European Union in its capacity as observer, voiced strong support for the principle that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished. The fight against impunity prevents future crimes, she said, noting that the views and practices of individual States concerning the principle’s scope and application vary widely. The primary responsibility for prosecuting the crime lies with the State that has the direct link to the crime committed, she stressed.
Underscoring the importance of the principle of aut dedere aut judicare, she added that mounting State practice underlies the significance of this principle. Highlighting the 2012 judgment of the International Court of Justice in the case of Belgium v. Senegal, she said that effective investigation at the national level depends on a high degree of close cooperation with national authorities. The Union has set up a European network to investigate and prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity, she said, voicing the bloc’s willingness to engage further in the discussion.
JULIA FIELDING (Sweden), also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, welcomed the fact that universal jurisdiction has gained solid ground in recent years as a fundamental principle of criminal law, both within national jurisdictions and at the international level. Agreeing that primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting international crimes rests with the territorial State in which the criminal conduct is alleged to have occurred, as a general rule, or the State of nationality of the accused, she said the exercise of universal jurisdiction by other States can serve as an important tool when the former do not take action.
All five countries for which she speaks have incorporated the principle of universal jurisdiction into their respective domestic legislation, she said. Such legislation allows domestic prosecution of certain crimes that did not take place on their respective territories and where neither the victim nor the alleged perpetrator were nationals of their respective countries. Urging other States to do the same, she went on to note that some delegations have expressed concern about the potential abuse of the principle. While she emphasized caution against developing an exhaustive list of crimes for which universal jurisdiction would apply, any form of misuse of prosecutorial powers should be prevented from occurring. She also called on States to adopt national legislation based on the Rome Statute, thereby ensuring domestic prosecution of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court and a more effective cooperation framework with international courts.
LUKE ROUGHTON (New Zealand), also speaking for Australia and Canada, said universal jurisdiction provides an important mechanism to ensure that perpetrators do not receive a safe haven anywhere. Primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting serious international crimes rests with the territorial State in which the criminal conduct was alleged to have occurred, he said, adding that they are often in the best position to achieve justice. As well, universal jurisdiction must be exercised in good faith and in line with other principles and rules of international law, and must be applied in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.
Noting that Australia, New Zealand and Canada have legislation establishing jurisdiction regarding the most serious international crimes, he encouraged Member States to follow suit, in accordance with international law, and to work cooperatively to hold perpetrators to account. Recalling the ongoing prosecution of Syrian nationals in Germany for crimes against humanity, he said universal jurisdiction is particularly important in cases where the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over the relevant crimes.
Mr. WONG (Singapore) stressed that universal jurisdiction should only be applied in respect of particularly grave crimes that affect the international community as a whole. Further, he said that universal jurisdiction is a principle of customary international law, which requires close analysis of State practice and opinio juris. It should be distinguished from the exercise of jurisdiction provided for in treaties or the exercise of jurisdiction by international tribunals, constituted under specific treaty regimes. Stressing that universal jurisdiction cannot be exercised in isolation from, or to the exclusion of, other applicable principles of international law, he specifically pointed to the immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction, State sovereignty and territorial integrity. He further noted that the principle of universal jurisdiction is not and should not be the primary basis for the exercise of criminal jurisdiction by States and should only be invoked as a last resort.
MICHAEL IMRAN KANU (Sierra Leone), associating himself with the African Group, said that a Member State in the report is reported as “currently hearing a case on war crimes, aggravated crimes against humanity and murders committed outside” of its territory. The case concerns a Sierra Leone national undergoing trial for alleged crimes committed outside of Sierra Leone. Although Sierra Leone has cooperated with the court, he noted, his country only embraces a form of universal jurisdiction for grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols through the Geneva Conventions Act. That covers not only offences committed by citizens of Sierra Leone or criminal conduct carried out on his country’s territory, but persons of “whatever nationality” committing those enumerated offences whether “within or outside [of] Sierra Leone”. The process of universal jurisdiction over the Sierra Leone national has been less than satisfactory, he noted, calling for the Sixth Committee and the International Law Commission to work together. As prospects for progress appear to get slimmer, there is a need to instill new life in the annual debate. The working group is open to all States, he said, reiterating that legal issues must be separated from policy issues in order to advance on the topic.
Mr. POURIMANI (Iran), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, stated that a common understanding on the conceptual and legal framework of universal jurisdiction and its scope of application has yet to be reached — in particular, the intersection between universal jurisdiction and the immunities of certain high‑ranking officials. He pointed to the non‑consensual expansion of crimes under universal jurisdiction and the selective as well as arbitrary application of the principle for the benefit of certain specific States. He viewed universal jurisdiction as a treaty‑based exception in exercising national criminal jurisdiction, he said, drawing attention to the principle of territorial jurisdiction as the key to sovereign equality of States. Universal jurisdiction is complementary to other jurisdictional bases and can be applied for the most serious crimes. However, expansion of the jurisdiction beyond the most heinous crimes could call its legitimacy into question. Moreover, universal jurisdiction cannot be exercised in isolation, he added, stressing that referring this matter to the International Court of Justice will not produce satisfactory results due to the existence divergence of views, incoherence and lack of unanimous State practice.
YURI ARIEL GALA LÓPEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed concern over the unilateral, selective, and politically motivated exercise of the principle of universal jurisdiction by courts of developed countries against individuals from developing countries. The main objective of the General Assembly’s work should be to regulate or create international guidelines to prevent the misuse of the principle and to safeguard international peace and security. Stressing the importance of complying with the full respect for the principles of political independence and non‑interference in the internal affairs of States, he said that the application of universal jurisdiction should be limited by the absolute respect for the sovereignty and national jurisdiction of States and should only supplement national jurisdictions. In this context, he underscored that the absolute immunity of Heads of State, diplomatic staff and other high-ranking officials should not be subject to any questioning, while offenses that fall under the application of this principle should be restricted to crimes against humanity.
AZELA GUERRERO ARUMPAC-MARTE (Philippines), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said universal jurisdiction is considered part of Philippine law, both through its Constitution and through the 2009 Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity. Highlighting other features of national law, she said the revised penal code follows the general rule that jurisdiction is territorial. Therefore, universal jurisdiction is an exception, grounded in the need to preserve international order. Thus, its scope and application must be limited and clearly defined, as the unrestrained invocation and abuse of the exercise of universal jurisdiction only undermines the principle behind it. Further, these certain offences must be limited to jus cogens crimes that have been deemed so fundamental to the existence of a just international legal order that States cannot derogate from them, even by agreement. The continuing challenge is defining its scope and application, she said, adding that this process should be State‑led, with discussions remaining in the Sixth Committee, rather than being referred to the International Law Commission.
ELIE ALTARSHA (Syria) said that the principle of universal jurisdiction complements national jurisdiction and does not substitute it. He stated that there is no common understanding of the scope and application of the principle and noted the divergences between States. Deeply concerned by the politicization of this principle, he called for absolute respect for the fundamental principles of international law such as the immunity of State representatives or the sovereign equality between States. He denounced “these politicized mechanisms that point the finger at entire continents”, taking the example of the International Criminal Court. Criticizing the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to facilitate investigations into the most serious violations of international law committed in Syria, he urged that Member States separate the legal issues from the political ones.
JHON GUERRA SANSONETTI (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the crimes that could fall under universal jurisdiction must be clearly defined, and it should only be exercised by the agreed—upon international courts. Moreover, he stressed, universal jurisdiction can only be applied when national courts are unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction must be invoked in strict compliance with the principles of sovereign equality, political independence and non‑interference in the internal affairs of States. He expressed concern about the growing trend towards the establishment of fact‑finding mechanisms that are intended to supplant the organs of the judicial systems of States. He also denounced “a strategy aimed at exploiting justice as a weapon of arbitrary aggression, causing suffering, chaos and destruction”. Reaffirming his country’s commitment to the fight against impunity, he stated that the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction must continue to be examined.
THABO MICHAEL MOLEFE (South Africa), associating himself with the African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, supported the use of the principle of universal jurisdiction to combat impunity and achieve justice for the most serious crimes. However, he also noted the need to clearly define the concept in order to prevent its application in a selective, politically motivated manner. To this end, he welcomed the progress made in defining the scope of universal jurisdiction, the criteria for its application, procedural aspects, the role of national judiciaries and international cooperation and assistance. The primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute international crimes lies with the State in which the crime occurred or with the perpetrators’ State of nationality, he emphasized. Only when such States are unable or unwilling to prosecute does the principle of universal jurisdiction apply.
ALI AHMAD M. A. ALMANSOURI (Qatar), noting that impunity is a common element in crimes witnessed today, said that there exists universal consensus on the need for international cooperation to end impunity and preserve the rights of victims. He stressed the importance of finding the right balance between fighting impunity on the one hand, and the need to exercise universal jurisdiction while adhering to the United Nations Charter and international law — and motivated by proper intentions — on the other. The principle of universal jurisdiction is one of the most important means of preventing violations of international humanitarian law and deterring criminal activity, he said. Those who violate the four Geneva Conventions must be prosecuted — no matter their nationality — in national or international courts. Noting terrorism’s risk to civilians, he added that the international community must focus on applying the principle of universal jurisdiction to address this threat.
SINA ALAVI (Liechtenstein) welcomed the recent Koblenz trials in Germany — which led to a judgment against a Syrian national involved in crimes against humanity — as a sign of progress. Nevertheless, significant impunity gaps remain. Noting that national judicial authorities undoubtedly shoulder the primary responsibility for prosecuting perpetrators of the most serious international crimes, primarily on the basis of territoriality, she said other widely accepted jurisdictional links include the nationality of the perpetrator and the nationality of the victims. The scope of universal jurisdiction is sufficiently clear from existing treaty law and customary international law. In cases of glaring impunity gaps, the Security Council should provide the International Criminal Court with jurisdiction by referring situations to it. Unfortunately, that often does not happen, due to political dynamics that are not expected to change in the near future. Alternatives, such as the application of universal jurisdiction in national proceedings, then become all the more important.
YANG LIU (China) noted that, although the Committee has engaged in open exchanges of views and extensive discussions on this topic, the rules of international law on the subject are far from established; States have huge divergences on the application of the principle. While some international treaties and State practices are invoked as the basis for universal jurisdiction, in fact they are mostly obligations of aut dedere aut judicare, or practices of extraterritorial jurisdiction of relevant States based on different links with the crime. Also noting that in recent years, some States have exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction in ways that are incompatible with international law, he said that politically motivated litigation and violations of immunity or foreign State officials are clear abuses of the principle.
QASIM AZIZ BUTT (Pakistan), stressing the importance of ensuring accountability, said that fundamental divergences on the nature, scope and application of universal jurisdiction have cast a shadow over the Committee’s efforts to arrive at a common understanding. The selective use of the principle has affected the credibility of international law. It is crucial to close the legal gaps. The scope and application of universal jurisdiction must be addressed objectively and cautiously, he stressed, adding that it should be exercised only in exceptional circumstances. Underscoring that domestic legal remedies must be prioritized, he said that the State in whose territory the crime was committed must have primary authority over the prosecution and investigation of such crimes.
JULIAN SIMCOCK (United States) noted that basic questions remain about how jurisdiction should be exercised in relation to universal crimes and what States’ views and practices are in relation to the topic. For its part, his delegation engaged in discussions on several important topics concerning universal jurisdiction, including with respect to its definition, scope, and application. In that context, the submissions made by States, the effort of the Working Group in the Sixth Committee and the Secretary-General’s reports have been valuable in helping identify differences of opinion among States, as well as points of consensus on this issue. As such, he said that he remains interested in further exploring issues related to the practical application of universal jurisdiction.
SARAH GOLDIE WEISS (Israel) expressed concern that actors attempting to advance political agendas often file spurious complaints based on the principle, in jurisdictions that have no nexus to the alleged incident. To maintain the integrity of domestic judicial procedures, it is crucial to ensure that States enact legislative, regulatory and policy safeguards to prevent such abuse. In that context, it is premature for any decisions to be reached regarding core issues, including the elaboration of a list of crimes over which universal jurisdiction could be exercised, the legal status of the principle or the conditions for its application. One of the central challenges is the lack of publicly available data regarding State practice, which creates a misleading and inaccurate picture in this regard. In international law, there is no exception or limitation to immunity in criminal proceedings against State officials in foreign courts when such an official asserts immunity, she pointed out. Indeed, the decision regarding whether to institute a criminal investigation carries with it the risk of violating the foreign official’s immunity under customary international law.
MAITÊ DE SOUZA SCHMITZ (Brazil) said that, as a first step, the Sixth Committee should endeavour to find a consensual definition of the principle, as well as a shared understanding of its scope and application, to avoid selectivity. The exercise of jurisdiction, irrespective of the link between the crime and the prosecuting State, is an exception to the more consolidated principles of territoriality and nationality. Hence, universal jurisdiction should be subsidiary to that of States with primary jurisdiction and limited to specific crimes. There is also a need to further discuss which crimes would trigger the universality principle, the need for formal consent on the part of the State with primary jurisdiction and the need for the alleged criminal to be in the territory of the State wishing to exercise universal jurisdiction. One of the most contentious issues remains the application of universal jurisdiction while upholding the jurisdictional immunities of State officials. This is a serious issue and Member States should show flexibility to allow the Committee to move forward and agree on core elements in that respect.
LIGIA LORENA FLORES SOTO (El Salvador) said that it is imperative that victims of serious crimes have access to justice and full redress. Her country has a solid legal framework to put the principle of universal jurisdiction into practice, she said. The jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador has adopted the principle that certain crimes are so damaging that States are obliged to exercise judicial jurisdiction, regardless of where such a crime was committed. The application of this principle is undisputed for several international crimes such as genocide, war crimes or other transnational crimes, such as drug trafficking or terrorism financing. It is essential that the exercise of this jurisdiction follows criteria of complementarity or subsidiarity, she added.
HAZAA MOHAMMED SAIF AL REESI (Oman) reaffirmed the importance of the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction, given its relevance in the arrest and prosecution of accused persons. Such jurisdiction should be limited to the most serious crimes and only when the State where the crime was committed is unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction. It must not violate the principle of non‑interference in the internal affairs of a State, he added. He also noted that Oman has joined several United Nations conventions, including the Convention against Torture, and enacted a series of laws between 2015 and 2020, including on money laundering, terrorism financing and extradition.
MATÚŠ KOŠUTH (Slovakia) drew attention to the increasing acceptance of universal jurisdiction in national legal systems, as well as to the principle’s increasing relevance in State practice. He voiced his support for the application of universal jurisdiction over crimes of concern to the international community as a whole — namely, piracy, crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of Geneva Conventions, genocide or torture. Universal jurisdiction complements well‑established territorial and personal jurisdictional bases, and thus closes the impunity gap. In the absence of the universal acceptance of the Rome Statute and of a truly universal framework for mutual legal assistance, universal jurisdiction remains the guarantee of accountability for perpetrators of crimes under general international law. However, a closer analysis of legal aspects of universal jurisdiction would contribute to the alleviation of its sensitivities, he said, advocating for the International Law Commission to include the topic on its short‑term programme of work.
NATALIA JIMÉNEZ ALEGRÍA (Mexico), emphasizing that combating impunity is a natural obligation incumbent on all States, encouraged the International Law Commission to include consideration of the principle of universal jurisdiction on its current agenda. Some issues require clarification, such as the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction in absentia. On this, she said that while universal jurisdiction derives from the prescriptive jurisdiction of States, the presence or absence of the perpetrator stems from States’ enforcement jurisdiction. Turning to the crimes subject to the exercise of universal jurisdiction, she said that there are two possible tracks to take going forward: either these crimes are determined by a list, or on a case‑by‑case basis. There is also a need to define whether the long‑term objective in this area is the establishment of a binding instrument or only of guidelines, she added.
Mr. ZOUNGRANA (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the exercise of universal jurisdiction is often the last resort for the most vulnerable against the worst violations of their human rights. The principle establishes a moral duty for humankind to combat impunity and ensure justice for all, reflecting States’ obligation to uphold the rights inherent to the international community. National courts in Burkina Faso have jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, regardless of where they are committed or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim. He also pointed out that effective application of the principle of universal jurisdiction requires the inadequacies of various national legislation to be remedied. To that end, he encouraged the United Nations to strengthen judicial cooperation and mutual assistance among States.
VINCENT OLIVIER RITTENER (Switzerland) expressed regret that the international community has, to date, been unable to reach consensus on the definition and scope of the application of universal jurisdiction. The principle should be examined by the International Law Commission; a comprehensive legal study analysing its practical application would provide States with a solid basis for future constructive discussions. To that end, he said his country is ready to cooperate with other delegations in exploring the possibility of including the Commission in the debate. Describing cooperation between States as essential to ensure the prosecution of the most serious international crimes, he noted his country’s commitment to facilitating mutual assistance in the prosecution of the most serious crimes. Pointing to the recent legal amendments introduced by his country in order to cooperate with international penal bodies, he called on other States to follow suit and fight impunity through universal jurisdiction.
MAREK ZUKAL (Czech Republic), associating himself with the European Union, stated that universal jurisdiction is an important tool for States to bring perpetrators of the most heinous crimes to justice. It also is a way to exercise national jurisdiction over a crime irrespective of the nationality of its perpetrator or of the place where the crime has been committed. Noting that his country has incorporated national jurisdiction in its national legislation, he stressed that defining the scope and concrete application of the principle of universal jurisdiction on the international level should not be burdened by political considerations. Against this backdrop, he proposed to refer the topic to the International Law Commission to prepare a study on this issue, emphasizing that legal certainty regarding the scope and application of universal jurisdiction among the international community is very desirable.
KAJAL BHAT (India), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that those who commit crimes should not remain immune because of procedural technicalities, including lack of jurisdiction. Outlining her country’s position on the matter, she stated that universal jurisdiction is applicable in a limited set of crimes, such as piracy on the high seas. A careful analysis of State practice and opinio juris is needed in order to identify the existence of a customary rule of universal jurisdiction over a particular crime. Stressing that treaty‑based jurisdiction is conceptually and legally distinct from universal jurisdiction, she highlighted the need to ensure that the principle of universal jurisdiction is not misused. She also noted that much‑needed conceptual and legal clarity on crimes falling under universal jurisdiction is yet to emerge.
PETRA LANGERHOLC (Slovenia), underlining the unique nature of the principle of universal jurisdiction, called on States to assist courts in prosecuting serious international crimes through cooperation. To ensure effective application, gaps in national laws should be filled by establishing multilateral mechanisms for judicial cooperation and mutual assistance in criminal matters. Given the continued divergence of views among States over the appropriate scope and application of universal jurisdiction and a lack of meaningful progress regarding the principle, a legal study by the International Law Commission leading to draft guidelines or draft conclusions would be of great use. Moreover, by clarifying fundamental concepts and elements of universal jurisdiction under international law, there is less risk that States would either infringe on the sovereignty of another State or decline to exercise their criminal jurisdiction due to misunderstanding of its application.
Mr. ELGHARIB (Egypt) said that the principle of universal jurisdiction should complement rather than replace the national jurisdiction of the States where the crime was committed. Stressing that this should be the exception rather than the rule, he added that the principle should be invoked in clear situations and if the State of the territory where the crime was committed is unable or unwilling to exercise its jurisdiction. He recalled that the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction must comply with the principles of general and customary international law, respect for the sovereignty of States and non‑interference in their internal affairs, and must also respect the immunity of officials and diplomatic immunities. Further, he expressed hope that the discussions would lead to a consensus, in particular on the notions of international cooperation and consent of States. He voiced his opposition regarding the suggestion to ask the International Law Commission to consider this issue, adding that it is more appropriate to move forward with discussions in the Sixth Committee.
HANNA BETACHEW BIRHANU (Ethiopia), associating herself with the African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the advancement of modern technology and increased globalization have made transnational crimes more difficult to control. To address this, States must adapt their law‑enforcement efforts and capacities. For its part, Ethiopia has adopted the principle of universal jurisdiction for acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and human trafficking. The principle, however, should be applied as a measure of last resort and in a manner that complements the efforts of national courts with direct connection to the event in question. She also said that the universality principle should not be synonymized with the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court or that of similar ad hoc mechanisms, whose jurisdiction derives from specific agreements between States. Noting the problematic use of the principle against African leaders, she stressed that appropriate rules must be established to monitor and control its application.