I would like to express our appreciation to the African group for the initiative to add the item “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” to the General Assembly’s agenda. It is our hope that it will give us a unique opportunity to discuss and consider issues relating to universal jurisdiction on a general level. I will make a few brief and preliminary points on behalf of the Norwegian Government in this regard.
Our understanding of the concept of universal jurisdiction is: a state’s institution of criminal proceedings against a person who is not a national of that state, for an alleged crime committed outside the territory of that state. The traditional justification for the exercise of universal jurisdiction is that the crime is of such a serious nature that it is of concern to the global community as a whole and thereby directed against all states. The authority to exercise universal jurisdiction is based on treaty or customary international law.
One of the major achievements in international relations and in international law over the last decades is the shared understanding that there should be no impunity for serious crimes. The global trend, crowned of course by the establishment of the International Criminal Court, is that there is to be no escape or safe haven for those who commit such crimes. All states subscribe to this principle. International cooperation is constantly being strengthened and new measures taken to ensure that perpetrators of serious crimes are brought to justice. One of the tools to achieve this common goal is the exercise of universal criminal jurisdiction by states. This important contribution to the fight against impunity needs to be fully recognised in our debate here in the 6th Committee.
It may be true that the concept of universal jurisdiction has not been precisely defined, and questions could be raised as to exactly what crimes universal jurisdiction should apply to. This gives reason for caution. The content of the principle of universal jurisdiction is under constant development. New treaties, state practice, views of international tribunals and scholars will gradually provide more clarity and more substance to the principle. In considering this topic, we should therefore take a cautious approach to make sure that we do not, with less than full knowledge, engage in an activity that could prove unfruitful at a later stage.
I would also like to highlight a couple of other aspects of this topic that need to be properly taken into account in our work here in the 6th Committee. First of all, we need to make sure that we do not infringe on the status of independent courts and prosecuting authorities. Second, our work should not overlap that of other bodies. I would, in this regard, point to the work of the ILC on the topic of “extradite or prosecute”. We know from the Commission’s report that parts of that work will cover the relationship between universal jurisdictions and “extradite or prosecute”. And we therefore anticipate that the Commission will make an important contribution to broadening our understanding of the concept universal jurisdiction.
We have listened closely to this stimulating debate. We remain convinced that universal jurisdiction is an important tool for states to ensure that the most serious crimes do not go unpunished. Universal jurisdiction is a safety net that can come into play when other jurisdictions are not utilised.
Having said this, Mr Chairman, we fully agree that universal jurisdiction must be applied only in the interest of justice. Any attempt to assert jurisdiction for political reasons must be repelled. The fundamental principle of bona fide application is just as relevant for the concept of universal jurisdiction as for all other principles or obligations of international law. And while we all try to safeguard the principle of good faith, we also need to observe all other relevant principles of international law.
Thank you Mr Chairman.