I would again like to commend the African group for the initiative to add the item “The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” to the agenda of the 6th Committee. We look forward to this continued debate on universal jurisdiction on a general level. I will make a few brief points on behalf of the Norwegian Government in this regard.
Our understanding of the concept of universal criminal jurisdiction coincides with the information regarding this concept as it appears in the Secretary General’s report, namely as 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. Furthermore, the crime shall not have been committed against a national of the state, nor was the state directly affected by the crime.
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 can therefore be considered to be directed against all states. The authority under international law to exercise universal jurisdiction is based on treaty or customary international law. Universal jurisdiction is often perceived as a secondary type of jurisdiction, as it will be applied when no other state – neither the state of nationality of the alleged criminal nor the territorial state will exercise jurisdiction over the crime.
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. There is growing consensus that there shall 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 should 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 material scope 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, the 6th Committee 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.
Let me also add here that the report of the Secretary General makes it clear that there is a wide range of views as to which crimes fall within the scope of universal jurisdiction. We also note that not even the often cited Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction include an exhaustive list of crimes to which universal jurisdiction can be applied. Given this information, we wonder whether it is advisable to undertake efforts to reach consensus on a list of crimes to which universal jurisdiction can be applied.
And, notwithstanding the wording of this agenda item, we also question whether it is necessary to embark on this rather complex task in order to contribute to the elimination of any misuse of universal jurisdiction. We would therefore suggest that this Committee instead undertakes to explore whether there are procedural or organisational recommendations that we all share. We note in this connection that the Secretary General’s report contains useful information about how various states have organised their prosecuting authority. This material could be expanded through the submission of information from more states, and then considered closely in our future work. We also note that UN Guidelines, such as the 1990 UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, could be of interest in connection with this topic.
It has also been suggested that we should devote our efforts to considering questions concerning criminal immunity under the agenda item of universal jurisdiction. We fully recognise that issues of immunity are relevant for a discussion on criminal proceedings against officials of other states. We would however prefer that we refrain from pursuing a discussion on immunity here. There are at least three reasons for this view. First, the question of immunity as an obstacle for a court to consider a case on its merits arises only after the court has established its jurisdiction. A discussion on immunity is therefore qualitatively different from a discussion about universal jurisdiction, and it could possibly derail or confuse our discussion on universal jurisdiction. Second, questions of immunity arise with regard to the exercise of all types of jurisdiction, not only in connection with universal jurisdiction. Thirdly, we should refrain from discussing immunity for state officials as it might prejudice the consideration of the academic work of the International Law Commission, ably led by Ambassador Kolodkin of the Russian Federation.
We have listened very 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. 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. Universal jurisdiction, as is the case for all other legal principles, must not be abused or misused. We look forward to the continued discussions under this agenda item and to hearing other states’ views on how we collectively can bring this work forward.