C6: Universal jurisdiction

10/12/2011 // Legal Affairs Counsellor, Ms. Anniken Enersen, presented Norway's statement on "The scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction" to the UN General Assembly's Sixth Committee on Wednesday October 12, 2011.

Mr. Chairman,

One of the major achievements in international relations and in international law during the last few decades is the shared understanding that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished. There is a growing consensus that there must be no escape or safe haven for those who commit such crimes. International cooperation is constantly being strengthened and new institutions and measures introduced to ensure that perpetrators of serious crimes are brought to justice.  

Universal jurisdiction is an important legal principle in this respect. The traditional justification for the exercise of universal jurisdiction is that certain crimes are of such a serious or grave nature that they can be considered to be directed against the international community as a whole. Universal jurisdiction is often perceived as a secondary type of jurisdiction, as it is normally applied when no other State - neither the State of nationality of the alleged perpetrator or victim nor the territorial State where the criminal act is committed - exercises jurisdiction over the crime.

Mr. Chairman,

The importance of universal jurisdiction as a tool in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes should be fully recognised.

In considering this topic, we urge this Committee, as we also did last year, to adopt a cautious approach in order to make sure that we do not engage in a debate that could prove counterproductive to our common goal of fighting impunity.  

As demonstrated by the Secretary-General’s report, there are differing views as to which crimes the principle of universal jurisdiction applies.  Furthermore, the scope of the principle of universal jurisdiction is constantly evolving. New treaties, state practice, and views of international tribunals and scholars are gradually providing more clarity and giving the principle more substance. For these reasons, we believe that it would be unwise to seek to reach a consensus on a list of crimes to which universal jurisdiction can be applied.

At the same time, we agree that universal jurisdiction, like any legal principle, may only be applied in the interest of justice. Any attempt to assert jurisdiction for political reasons must be prevented. Universal jurisdiction must not be abused or misused.  One issue that may merit our consideration is the existence or development of procedural or organisational best practices relevant for the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction which could be universally recommended.

Mr. Chairman,

It has also been suggested that we should devote our efforts to considering questions concerning criminal immunity under the agenda item of universal jurisdiction. While we fully recognise that issues of immunity may be relevant for a discussion on the engagement in criminal proceedings against officials of other States, our clear preference would be to refrain from pursuing a discussion on immunity under this agenda item. There are at least three reasons for that.

First, the question of immunity as an obstacle to a court considering a case on its merits may only arise after the court has established its jurisdiction. Any discussion pertaining to immunity is therefore qualitatively different from a discussion about the principle of universal jurisdiction, and it might conceivably derail or confuse our discussion of the latter.

Second, questions of immunity may arise with regard to the exercise of any type of jurisdiction, not only universal jurisdiction.

Third, we should refrain from discussing immunity for State officials as this might prejudice our consideration of the topic, which has also been dealt with by the International Law Commission.

Mr. Chairman,

We have listened very closely to the debate here today. We remain convinced that universal jurisdiction is an important tool for States to ensure that the most serious crimes do not go unpunished. At the same time, universal jurisdiction should only be applied in the interest of justice. 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 in a constructive manner.


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