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10 October 2008 - Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission (item 73)

63th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sixth Committee

Speech delivered by Mr. Hubert Renié, First Counsellor, Legal Advisor

Mr. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the EFTA country member of the European Economic Area Iceland, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Armenia align themselves with this declaration.

Mr. President,

The European Union would first like to thank the Ad Hoc Committee on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission for the constructive work accomplished during its meeting last April, which was chaired by Ms. Maria Telalian. We would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his recent report on this issue. These efforts highlighted the progress made in this area, as well as the difficulties that remain.

The European Union fully supports the UN’s zero-tolerance policy with respect to serious crimes committed by its officials and experts on mission. In the EU’s view, it is essential that any person who commits a serious offence while participating in a UN operation be held fully accountable for their crime. This policy is all the more important given that United Nations staff are responsible for promoting and upholding justice and the rule of law in their operations. We consider that such offences are damaging not only to the victims, but also to the UN as a whole, as its reputation, its credibility and the success of its operations are at stake.

Member States must therefore ensure that the special status afforded to United Nations officials and experts on mission should not be abused by effectively exempting them from criminal accountability, especially in situations where the host State is unable to institute proceedings against them. It is therefore a question of overcoming obstacles, while respecting the principle of the rule of law, human rights and the right to a fair hearing, and without prejudice to the necessary immunities granted to the United Nations and its officials and experts on mission.

Given the difficulties arising from this issue, the European Union supports the approach which has been used up to now, comprising both short- and long-term measures. In this regard, the resolution adopted by the General Assembly last year represents both significant progress and a first phase of review on the topic.

First and foremost, the aim is to encourage States to establish and exercise their criminal jurisdiction with respect to nationals who commit serious crimes in a host State while carrying out United Nations operations. The jurisdictional gaps created by States who choose not to prosecute mean that there are crimes which remain unpunished to this day.

The European Union also supports last year’s General Assembly proposal to facilitate cooperation between States, and between States and the United Nations as regards investigations and legal proceedings. Given the UN’s mandate and capacities, this cooperation is essential and should help the alleged offender’s State of nationality assert its jurisdiction and therefore ensure that UN officials and experts on mission are held fully accountable for their actions. In this regard, the extremely interesting proposals put forward by Ms. Telalian at the Ad Hoc Committee meeting, in addition to initial amendments submitted by the delegations, indicate that a careful and thorough review is required.

In the long-term, the European Union remains ready to consider the proposal for an international convention which would clearly list the circumstances under which Member States can exercise jurisdiction, as well as the categories of individuals and crimes subject to that jurisdiction. Among the points to be considered is whether such a convention might facilitate international cooperation on the issue.

The European Union believes that its Member States and the UN must provide a determined response to crimes committed by UN officials or experts on mission, which is commensurate with the damage that these acts cause to the reputation of the United Nations and all its staff. We are in no doubt that this is an important condition in determining how the United Nations will address such issues in the future./.

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