C6: Criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission

Last updated: 10/7/2011 // In this statement delivered to the Sixth Committee by Legal Affairs Counsellor, Ms. Anniken Enersen, Norway calls on States to establish jurisdiction for serious crimes committed by their nationals serving as members of a UN mission.

Norway continues to attach great importance to the topic of criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, and I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to give a brief presentation of our views on this matter.

Mr. Chairman,

There is broad agreement that serious crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse, cannot go unpunished. The principle of no impunity for grave crimes applies to all serious crimes, regardless of under what circumstances and by whom they are committed. Impunity fosters anger, suspicion and mistrust. We cannot afford to jeopardize the trust and support that the UN enjoys worldwide. As a result, Norway fully supports the UN zero-tolerance policy towards crimes committed by its officials and experts. Those who commit serious crimes while on duty for the UN must be brought to justice.

Mr. Chairman,

It is widely agreed that sexual exploitation and abuse could be a means of warfare and might even constitute a war crime. If  UN officials on duty in conflict and post-conflict states commit such acts themselves it goes without saying that this challenges the very core of what the UN stands for and damages the organisation’s credibility and legitimacy. It is simply not acceptable and will severely harm the UN’s ability to properly execute its important mandates.

Ms. Chairman,

While we believe that preparatory measures such as awareness-raising and training on standards of conduct is necessary and should always be undertaken to prevent such conduct, reparatory measures must be in place if or when such acts are committed despite such training.

In Norway’s view, a core issue here is that the state of nationality of UN officials and experts must be willing to investigate allegations of serious misconduct and to prosecute if such unacceptable conduct is revealed. We are aware of the different legal traditions with regard to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes committed by nationals abroad. However, in these situations, when the state in which the crime is committed is a conflict or post conflict state that lacks the ability to prosecute, there are often no other viable option.

First and foremost, we therefore call on States to establish jurisdiction for serious crimes committed by their nationals serving as members of a UN mission.

We also call on all States that have not already done so to provide information regarding their relevant legislation to the Secretary General in order to gain a full picture of the legal situation.

Secondly, we urge all states to cooperate with each other and with the UN when allegations of serious crimes are revealed. The General Assembly resolutions adopted at the last sessions offer several concrete recommendations with regard to strengthening such cooperation. A number of these recommendations are qualified by a reference to States’ domestic law. While it is obvious that cooperation in the field of criminal law must be carried out in compliance with domestic law, it is equally clear to us that current domestic law cannot serve as a justification for refraining from cooperating as recommended in these resolutions. Rather, it is our view that States must be prepared to consider amending their domestic law when this is warranted.

Mr. Chairman,

Norway would like to thank the Secretary-General for his informative report under this agenda item. The report provides, inter alia, useful information on the number of cases that have been brought to the attention of the national state of the alleged perpetrator and the number of responses received from the member states in this regard. We note with concern that the UN has received few responses from States on how credible allegations have been handled in their domestic jurisdictions. It is our hope that more such responses are forthcoming. As will be recalled, the need for States to keep the UN informed about the development in these cases was one of the major new provisions that were included in last year’s resolution under this agenda item. 

Mr. Chairman,

We note that the Secretary General’s report does not give reason to believe that criminal conduct of UN officials and experts on mission is systematic and widespread. In this regard, we again call on the Secretariat to provide its assessment as to whether or not the number of cases reported accurately reflects the reality or whether there may be cases that are unreported.  We note with concern that serious crimes, such as sexual exploitation and abuse, can be difficult for victims to report and recommend the consideration of putting in place mechanisms for reporting which are easily accessible for potential victims of such conduct.

Mr. Chairman,

Let me end this statement by noting that the relatively low number of reported cases should not serve as justification for maintaining the legal status quo on criminal accountability for UN officials and experts on mission. In our view, one case of impunity is one too many.  It is also Norway’s view that we need to put in place a mechanism that can deal effectively with allegations of serious crimes being committed on a larger scale, if such a situation should occur tomorrow.

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