International Cooperation, Women Peacekeepers, Training Crucial in Addressing Criminal Accountability for Officials on Mission, Sixth Committee Hears
Delegates Take Up Report on United Nations Rule of Law Activities
Speakers underscored the importance of international cooperation in ensuring criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, while also highlighting pre-deployment training and the role of women peacekeepers in preventing acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, as the Sixth Committee took up the Secretary-General’s reports on the matter.
The Secretary-General’s reports “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” (document A/77/225 and A/77/237) contain, respectively, information received from Governments regarding their nationals while serving as United Nations officials or experts on mission, and information on the policies and procedures of the United Nations Secretariat regarding credible allegations that reveal that a crime may have been committed by United Nations officials or experts on mission.
The representative of the Netherlands noted that women peacekeepers played an important role in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. Yet by doing so they risked being subjected to discrimination and sexual harassment and abuse. Thus, discrimination against women peacekeepers should unequivocally be addressed through prevention and response measures, she stressed.
On that point, the representative of Nepal reported that his country increased the number of women peacekeepers with a view that it would help reduce cases of sexual exploitation and abuse on the mission. He also noted that international cooperation and coordination mechanisms between host countries and sending States would help ensure criminal accountability.
The representative of Mexico, emphasizing that the primary responsibility for investigating crimes falls on States of nationality, urged such States to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction. Both United Nations bodies and Member States must work to establish and implement protocols that enable complaints of this nature to be addressed.
Malaysia’s representative highlighted the importance of cooperation between States in guaranteeing criminal accountability. In addition, she underscored that training promoted integrity among Malaysia’s peacekeeping personnel while performing their duties. To that end, her country established a Malaysian peacekeeping training centre –— an international operational and training facility for peacekeepers.
The representative of Egypt pointed out that, as the seventh largest contributor to the peacekeeping missions, it was important to guarantee accountability for crimes committed against United Nations officials in addition to improving their work conditions. Egyptian citizens sent on missions were thoroughly vetted and provided with training courses on disciplinary and criminal accountability.
The delegate of the Republic of Korea also underlined the significance of preventing crimes through practical pre-deployment training, vetting measures and induction training. A troop-contributing country to peacekeeping missions, she said that peacekeepers are selected through a rigorous process and are given instructions in the necessary professional ethics standards.
Similarly, the delegate of Bangladesh said that pre-deployment training at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training for its peacekeepers includes a briefing about possible repercussions for “lapses” or acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, among other crimes. In addition, the country developed a customized training module considering the unique cultural settings of different field missions.
The Sixth Committee also took up the Secretary-General’s report “Strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities” (document A/77/213). The report addresses the achievements as well as the challenges to the rule of law in the reporting period.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, introducing the report in a pre-recorded video, detailed both the challenges and achievements in the reporting period, which witnessed an erosion of the independence of judicial institutions and widespread attacks against democratic foundations such as independent media and civic spaces.
However, she pointed out that the Organization responded to such challenges by offering assistance to Members requesting such help to tackle corruption, advance security, counter terrorism and crime, strengthen access to justice and advance transitional justice mechanisms through gender-sensitive and survivor-centred approaches.
She also stressed that, against the backdrop of threats of nuclear war, global climate emergency and the devastation caused by infectious diseases, it was clear that the entire global community must commit to effective multilateralism. After months of consultations with Member States on Our Common Agenda, the Secretary-General announced a new vision for the rule of law, seeking to redouble the commitment of the United Nations in supporting Member States’ efforts to strengthen the rule of law, she said.
The representative of Iceland, also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, said that Our Common Agenda presented a new vision of the rule with the assertion that justice is an essential dimension of the social contract. However, while certain limitations of civil liberties may be justified if provided by law and necessary for health protection, they should not be applied arbitrarily, he pointed out.
The representative of Singapore, highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on his country, said that Singapore implemented measures to ensure that its legal and judicial bodies continued to function. He also said that the rule of law was fundamental to Singapore’s existence and — spotlighting its small size — to the maintenance of international peace and security.
Austria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law, emphasized that the principle was vital for strong, healthy and resilient societies. The COVID-19 pandemic had affected not only relations between States, but also people’s trust in Government and international organizations, undermining the rule of law. Hailing the Secretary-General’s offer to support States in renewing their social contracts with their citizens, he stressed: “We want our world to be ruled by the law, not by the mighty.”
The representatives of Albania and Costa Rica delivered statements on measures to eliminate international terrorism, as the Sixth Committee concluded its debate on the matter.
Speaking on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission were representatives of Iran (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Morocco (for the African Group), Norway (also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden), Canada (also for Australia and New Zealand), Iran, Colombia, United States, El Salvador, Brazil, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, India, Cameroon, United Kingdom, China, Russian Federation, Cuba, Senegal, Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Portugal, Türkiye, Indonesia, Nigeria and Chad. A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also spoke.
Speaking on the rule of law at the national and international levels were representatives of Iran (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Venezuela (for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations), Costa Rica (for the Justice Action Coalition), Cambodia (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), New Zealand (also for Canada and Australia), Pakistan, India, Liechtenstein, Colombia and Belarus. A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also spoke.
The representatives of Israel, India and Pakistan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 7 October, to continue its debate on the rule of law at the national and international levels.
Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism
ALMONA BAJRAMAJ (Albania) noted that her country was one of the first to join the Global Coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh. Expressing condemnation of the use of children for terrorism purposes, she highlighted specific assistance programmes implemented for repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters, especially women and children. Her country has also ensured protection, rehabilitation and accommodation for children, women and their families who are victims of the extremist ideology. To this end, the country strengthened its counter-terrorism laws and criminalized acts of terrorism, terrorist financing and recruiting. Albania has signed and ratified all United Nations counter-terrorist conventions and protocols and implemented all related Security Council resolutions. Her country is committed to tackling terrorism by empowering civil society and promoting human rights approach, the women, peace and security agenda and religious harmony as tools to counter extremist propaganda. In that vein, she reported that her country has developed de-radicalization plans for harmful and terrorist content in virtual space and has worked to improve its border security and boost the national and regional coordination in detecting terrorist networks.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) said that the lack of an internationally agreed-upon definition for “terrorism” hampers the international community’s ability to address issues relating to this phenomenon consistently in line with international law. Human-rights mechanisms have documented how certain authorities use this vacuum to apply counter-terrorism measures in an arbitrary, discriminatory way, leading to overbroad definitions that criminalize the legitimate exercise of fundamental freedoms such as that of expression. She went on to urge Member States to negotiate an international convention on terrorism, and to adopt preventative measures to address the root causes of the phenomenon through a cross-cutting, differentiated and gender-based approach. Stressing that a purely military strategy “only reinforces the spiral of violence”, she expressed concern over the impact of purely military operations on civilian populations and the provision of humanitarian aid. Large-scale investment in military and national-security architecture leads to increasingly militarized societies, she added, spotlighting the same’s negative impact on the full realization of human rights
Right of Reply
The representative of Israel, speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, expressed regret that, rather than discussing ways to fight terrorism, the representative of the State of Palestine decided to divert the professional discussion with one-sided political statements. Moreover, he decided to do so when the Israeli delegation was absent from the room, as they were preparing for the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It would be unfortunate if the Committee was allowed to be derailed from its agenda, as already attempted by the Palestinian delegate in his efforts to advance a narrow political agenda divorced from the important matter of that meeting
Criminal Accountability of United Nations Officials and Experts on Mission
MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, noted the Secretary-General’s recommendation that United Nations system entities should continue to utilize their internal networks to measure the adequacy of their existing procedures to identify potential disparities and promote enhanced cooperation on cross-cutting issues, such as financial recovery. Also requesting the Secretary-General to continue to improve reporting methods by providing a full scope of the obstacles, he added that the Movement’s countries not only contribute more than 80 per cent of the peace-keeping personnel in the field but are also major recipients of these missions. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining a zero-tolerance policy when addressing all cases of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeeping personnel, he urged the Organization to continue cooperating with States exercising jurisdiction.
Welcoming the comprehensive strategy on assistance and support for victims, adopted by Assembly resolution 62/214, he added that it is crucial to bridge any jurisdictional gaps and develop a harmonized United Nations standard of investigation for crimes allegedly committed by United Nations officials and experts on missions. He also emphasized that the State of nationality must act in a timely manner to investigate and prosecute, welcoming the Secretary-General’s reaffirmation that there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations. Reiterating that it is still premature to discuss a draft convention on the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, he said the work of the Committee must focus on substantive matters for the time being and leave matters of form to a subsequent stage.
AAHDE LAHMIRI (Morocco), speaking for the African Group and associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that the topic was of major importance to the African Group due to the large physical presence of the United Nations peace operation and the county teams on the continent. The Group maintained a no-compromise approach towards criminal accountability. However, some Member States have legislative advantage and capacity to exercise this jurisdiction, while others have some provisions for some limited jurisdiction only. Thus, she encouraged States to exercise jurisdiction in applicable cases, reiterating the Group’s collective commitment for the zero-tolerance policy. While jurisdictional gaps can often lead to inability to establish accountability and repetitive commission of crimes, she noted that measures adopted under several General Assembly resolutions, if properly implemented, could address that issue.
The responsibility of ensuring criminal accountability lies with the State of nationality, she continued, welcoming measures implemented by the Organization in providing training on United Nations standards of conduct, including through pre-deployment and in-mission induction training and awareness-raising programmes. She further commended the technical assistance provided to the States in developing domestic criminal law to combat and deter criminal offences of United Nations officials and experts on mission. These efforts contributed to developing and strengthening national capacities to persecute serious crimes, especially in the context of mutual legal assistance and extradition. She encouraged States to continue cooperating with each other in criminal investigations and/or extraditions proceedings where crimes of a serious nature are committed by United Nations officials
SIMONA POPAN, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, stressed the need for a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct and crimes committed by officials and experts on mission, especially for sexual and gender-based violence. The European Union has implemented a code of conduct for its officials and experts, and a zero-tolerance policy is a guiding principle of its regulations governing standards of behaviour. Emphasizing that each country should ensure that personnel they deploy maintain professional and personal standards of behaviour, she also pointed out that all officials and experts on mission should respect the laws and regulations of the host country and be sensitive to local traditions, culture and religion. Education, pre-deployment training, vetting and awareness-raising have proved effective in this regard.
She went on to emphasize that the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting alleged crimes conducted by officials and experts on mission lies with the State of nationality. She called on all States to cooperate, exchange information and coordinate their investigative and prosecutorial approaches to end impunity and strengthen the integrity of United Nations peacekeeping missions. Further, States should cooperate to provide appropriate protection and support for victims of crimes perpetrated by United Nations peacekeeping personnel, as those in vulnerable situations due to conflict must not be re-victimized. Expressing concern that most of the alleged misconduct and crimes referred to Member States by the Secretary-General remain unanswered, she called on States to investigate these referrals and provide the Secretary-General with more updates on the status of investigations and prosecutions.
MIRJAM BIERLING (Norway), speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said that, the Secretary-General’s recent report, as with the last couple of years, witnessed an unacceptable development. All reported cases since 2007 indicated 331 allegations of serious criminal offences, 45 of which were reported between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022. Further, 24 credible allegations of such crimes were referred to their States of nationality. These numbers demonstrated the importance of the continued focus on this matter. Expressing particular concern that there were two recorded cases of sexual exploitation and abuse that occurred over the last reporting year, she said that it could not be ruled out that a significant number of cases were going unrecorded.
She also spotlighted the continued high number of crimes for profit, such as fraud, corruption and theft, adding: “To scam and steal from these programmes is to scam and steal from some of the most vulnerable people in the world.” The lack of response of the Member States to the referred cases was unacceptable and she strongly encouraged them to provide the required information. Stressing the importance of the States to establish jurisdiction over crimes committed by their nationals in their capacity as United Nations officials or experts on mission, she also underscored the need to ensure effective protection of victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers.
BEATRICE MAILLE (Canada), also speaking for Australia and New Zealand, stressed that United Nations missions must faithfully serve the populations they are mandated to protect, and that failing to hold officials and experts on mission accountable intensifies the suffering of such populations. Allegations of criminal activity — including sexual abuse, human trafficking and corruption — undermine the reputation of United Nations missions and the Organization as a whole, and she therefore supported a zero-tolerance policy for criminal conduct. Prevention is also important, and she urged careful vetting and training for officials and experts prior to their deployment. Further, immunity cannot be used as a shield to protect perpetrators from being held accountable for their actions.
She went on to encourage United Nations bodies to adopt coherent policies for the proper investigation of misconduct allegedly committed by United Nations personnel who are outside the scope of General Assembly resolutions on this topic, to signal that there is no place for misconduct anywhere in the United Nations system. She also urged Member States to provide relevant information to the Secretary-General in support of ongoing investigations and to establish a culture that provides real assistance to those reporting criminal behaviour. On that point, she added that an appropriate mechanism must be established to prevent reprisals against those reporting cases of misconduct or criminal activity.
MOHAMMAD SADEGH TALEBIZADEH SARDARI (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, underscored that alleged crimes should be prosecuted on a national level. Highlighting the absence of consensus on the implementation of accountability measures, he encouraged delegations to take an effective response to the existing legislation deficiencies and establish a coherent and coordinated policy.. This will enable an appropriate implementation of the non bis in idem principle while strictly observing the conduct of disciplinary measures by the United Nations and the criminal proceedings by the State of nationality. His country’s legal mechanisms provide legal bases necessary for effective prosecution of crimes committed by its nationals. He also asserted extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes committed abroad by persons based on the principle of nationality, if that offence was recognized by the Iranian Penal Code. The law also permits criminal justice assistance and extradition based on bilateral and multilateral treaties, including the principle of reciprocity in the absence of such agreements on a case-to-case basis. More so, the law of criminal procedure includes effective protection of witnesses and victims, who provide crime-related information, he said.
LUCIA TERESA SOLANO RAMIREZ (Colombia) said that Member States and the United Nations must remain vigilant regarding any action that may affect the Organization’s credibility, welcoming all initiatives relating to criminal accountability for United Nations officials and experts on mission. For its part, Colombia has worked to ensure that criminal activity does not go unpunished. However, ensuring due process can slow reporting and become “sluggish”, she observed, adding that Colombian judicial authorities are aware of the need to cooperate and are doing so as quickly as possible. Spotlighting the importance of timely information to investigative and prosecutorial efforts, she stressed the need for collaboration between States of nationality and the United Nations to ensure that information is exchanged to facilitate investigation. She also urged all States to provide mutual assistance in this regard in line with domestic law and the relevant norms of the Organization. The Secretariat should consider other mechanisms to provide continued training to judicial authorities on the applicable legal regime for United Nations officials and experts on mission, she added.
ELIZABETH GROSSO (United States) said she looked forward to the updates on the revisions of United Nations mandatory training, including those pertaining to sexual exploitation and abuse, along with the development of a reinforcement training package. All United Nations programmes, specialized agencies and related organizations should continue to revise internal rules and procedures with the goal of greater accountability for criminal conduct committed by United Nations officials and experts. She also welcomed the Office of Legal Affairs’ continued implementation of the General Assembly’s request for more follow-up with Member States to which referrals of criminal allegations have been made when no response has been received. These referrals will only be meaningful when Member States can and do act on them. On this point, she detailed the case of her country’s charging of a United States national and former United Nations employee with sexual assault. While this individual is being held accountable, more is needed from the United Nations and Member States. Namely, she called for further investigation into how such an individual was able to commit multiple assaults over an extended period while working for the Organization.
NOR AIZAM AIZA ZAMRAN (Malaysia), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that her country possesses jurisdiction of crimes committed by military personnel in their capacity as officials and experts on mission. To promote integrity and credibility among its peacekeeping personnel while performing their duties, her country established a Malaysian peacekeeping training centre – an international operational and training facility for peacekeepers. The country’s extradition-related legislation and treaties on mutual assistance in criminal matters provide a legal basis for such international cooperation. Acknowledging challenges related to ensuring criminal accountability without the cooperation of the sending State, she commended the efforts of the United Nations in ensuring adequate preventive measures through pre-deployment training and awareness-raising. She stressed the crucial part of the States in exercising their jurisdiction by duly investigating allegations and prosecuting the alleged offenders. Furthermore, she reiterated her country’s commitment to work together with other Member States to explore appropriate mechanisms in dealing with criminal accountability, including in the framework of the Working Group on criminal accountability.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, confirmed that his country, as one of the largest troop- and police-contributors to peacekeeping missions, spotlighted its pre-deployment and in-mission training courses on matters related to ethical conduct, discipline, integrity, and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. While fully adhering to the zero-tolerance policy, the country increased the number of women peacekeepers with a view that it would help reduce cases of sexual exploitation and abuse on the mission. In line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, Nepal developed a national action plan for its effective implementation. He also noted the existence of legal provisions of fines and imprisonment to the Nepali culprits of criminal misdeeds committed abroad or in any office of the foreign diplomatic mission, international or intergovernmental organization. Underscoring the importance of international cooperation for capacity building and in closing the existent jurisdictional gaps, he also stressed that quadrangular cooperation and coordination mechanisms between the Secretariat, the United Nations mission, host country and the sending State would constitute effective means to ensure criminal accountability
NATALIA JIMÉNEZ ALEGRÍA (Mexico) said that this topic provided the opportunity to focus discussion on the important issue of combating sexual harassment and related conduct. Both United Nations bodies and Member States must work to establish and implement protocols that enable complaints of this nature to be addressed, prioritize victims’ security and establish accountability. Administering justice for crimes committed by officials and experts on mission, however, depended on States’ willingness to enforce their own legislation. She pointed out that, without the exercise of criminal proceedings by States over their nationals, well-designed United Nations procedures and institutions would be insufficient and victims would continue to be denied justice. Emphasizing that the primary responsibility for investigating crimes falls on States of nationality, she urged such States to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction. The United Nations’ mandate – to achieve international peace and security – cannot be achieved without justice, she added.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador), underscoring her country’s commitment to a zero-tolerance policy for cases of misconduct, said that immunity must never justify impunity. Noting that El Salvadoran officials and experts have been appointed to various peacekeeping operations, she emphasized that her country has ensured that national law includes measures to avoid impunity, ensure appropriate investigation, establish jurisdiction and facilitate cooperation in this area. Further, preventative measures have been employed to avoid criminal conduct in the first place through pre-deployment and recurring training for those on mission. Pointing out that such training stresses the importance of compliance with host-country norms and human rights, she reported that there are currently no open criminal proceedings or disciplinary procedures regarding El Salvadoran personnel participating in peacekeeping operations. She added that domestic law provides for the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction in this regard, thereby reducing cases of impunity.
AHMED ABDELAZIZ AHMED ELGHARIB (Egypt), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that the responsibility for criminal accountability should be shouldered by the country of nationality. He noted his delegation’s continued reservations regarding certain newly-developed proposals on the matter. Further, as the seventh largest contributor to the peacekeeping missions, he said it was important to guarantee accountability for crimes committed against United Nations officials in addition to improving their work conditions and providing them with care and emergency medical evacuation in case of incidents. Egyptian citizens sent on missions were thoroughly vetted and provided with training courses on disciplinary and criminal accountability. In addition, Egypt adopted a specific criminal mechanism to address wrongdoings and irregularities that could be committed by military personnel on missions. These irregularities should be reported to military judicial authorities in Egypt, followed by investigation committees being sent to crime scenes. Therefore, he said that perpetrators should be summoned to their country of nationality, where competent investigative authorities can carry out an investigation until the judicial decision is made available. In addition, all procedures should be reported to the United Nations upon their finalization.
VINÍCIUS FOX DRUMMOND CANÇADO TRINDADE (Brazil) said he was proud of the overall track record of his country’s peacekeepers who served under the United Nations flag for more than seven decades. He highlighted the strict protocols in place to deal with any possible misconduct, including the criminal accountability of alleged perpetrators. Efficient peacekeeping and promotion of human rights were some of Brazil’s priorities in their current mandate in the Security Council. Further, Brazil has a robust framework of laws and regulations that provide the necessary legal bases for addressing credible allegations of serious misconduct. He noted, that in 2017 the country adopted a resolution reinforcing military personnel serving on missions to undergo specific training on sexual exploitation and abuse. At a later stage, a regulation updating procedural mechanisms to address any allegation of misconduct was adopted, which could entail possible criminal accountability of military personnel. In addition, the country has a wide and ever-increasing network of bilateral and multilateral mutual legal assistance treaties in criminal and civil matters, which allow for speedy and effective exchange of evidence and information when necessary, he said.
RABIA IJAZ (Pakistan), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that her country, as one that contributed troops, supported a zero-tolerance policy from crimes committed by officials and experts on mission. Pakistan was one of the first countries to sign the voluntary compact on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. Further, it developed training modules in this area and stands willing to share this experience both with the Secretariat and other Member States. Emphasizing that issue of criminal accountability cannot be viewed from a narrow perspective, she pointed out that — while sexual exploitation and abuse “is the most heinous expression of abuse” — the majority of cases reported relate to financial impropriety and fraud. She went on to say that the system for referring cases to Member States must be strengthened, and that jurisdictional gaps must be addressed. On that point, she supported ongoing discussions to bridge differences regarding an international instrument in this area.
ALAN EBUN GEORGE (Sierra Leone), associating himself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, noted his country’s troop and police contributions to peacekeeping missions and its continued efforts to build its legal and policy frameworks to strengthen criminal accountability. The Sierra Leone Armed Forces has adopted a policy of zero tolerance on sexual- and gender-based violence as well as sexual exploitation or abuse. Such abuses constitutes an act of serious misconduct and thereby prohibited by both Sierra Leone’s military law and the general law. The policy framework was further supplemented by his country’s first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy launched in 2020. He also highlighted the recently adopted Assembly resolution, sponsored by his country and Japan, on “International Cooperation on access to Justice, Remedies and assistance to Survivors of Sexual Violence”. Also emphasizing the importance of a victim-centred approach, he said that State of nationality should have precedence over the host country on the issue of criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on missions.
KAJAL BHAT (India), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the commission of crimes by United Nations officials and experts on mission undermines the Organization’s integrity, credibility and image and may compromise the missions themselves. She expressed concern over the increased number of cases reported over the years, along with the significant number of instances where Member States to which such cases were referred have failed to report on steps taken in response. Necessary assistance must be provided to Member States so they can update national legislation pertaining to jurisdiction and prosecution for wrongful conduct committed by their nationals serving as officials and experts on mission abroad. She also supported an internal examination of existing policies and procedures to identify disparities and promote cooperation in cross-cutting issues when crimes are committed, such as financial recovery. India, for its part, has domestic law providing for extraterritorial jurisdiction and ensuring assistance in criminal matters, she added.
ZACHARIE SERGE RAOUL NYANID (Cameroon) urged the Organization to continue its cooperation with States that exercise their jurisdiction to ensure accountability of crime acts. In order to avoid misconduct being normalized, he encouraged each staff member to be responsible for their acts while respecting the law and highlighted the important role of the State of nationality in prosecuting the alleged crimes. He further noted that, as a troop-contributing country, Cameroon placed particular importance in victims’ protection. The country included in its law provisions that extend its jurisdiction to offences committed by its nationals abroad, including application of consequent sanctions for crimes committed abroad. Underscoring the need of prevention through awareness-raising and training on codes of conduct, he reported that since 2008 his country has hosted an international school for security forces, perceived as a regional centre on peacekeeping. He also welcomed the effort of the Organization to assist countries requesting measures to be taken to cope with their legal shortcomings. Discussions need to focus on substantive measures and avoid discussing a new possible legal instrument, he added.
MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that as a top troops- and police-contributing country with 7,144 peacekeepers deployed in nine peacekeeping missions, the issue of criminal accountability was taken very seriously. At the national level his country put in place various policy measures to address the various forms of criminal activities and its defence and police forces who serve on the field were subject to a system of military or police discipline. During pre-deployment training at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training, he reported that peacekeepers are briefed about possible repercussions for “lapses” or acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, and other crimes. Bangladesh also developed a customized training module considering the unique cultural settings of different field missions. Expressing deep regret over United Nations personnel continuously being targets in the field, he reported that three Bangladeshi peacekeepers perished in the recent deadly attack in the Central African Republic. Manifesting its victim-centred approach, Bangladesh made a voluntary contribution of $100,000 to the Trust Fund established by the Secretary-General.
Mr. THOMAS (United Kingdom), noting that this issue is a system-wide problem that can only be addressed through a system-wide approach, stressed that abuse committed by either a peacekeeper or an official is equally serious and therefore requires equal oversight and accountability. Underscoring that lessons should be drawn from across the humanitarian and peacekeeping sectors, he voiced his support for a global dialogue on the matter. He went on to emphasize that relevant States must be able to exercise jurisdiction as appropriate and, where the host State is unable to do so, other States must be able to act. Encouraging all relevant States to exercise jurisdiction where possible — including extraterritorial jurisdiction — he pointed out that his country employs extraterritoriality and also works with host States to support capacity-building in this area. Further, the United Kingdom prioritizes the rights of victims, survivors and whistle-blowers. In that regard, he expressed concern over the mistreatment of those coming forward to report wrongdoing in the United Nations system. When the response is inadequate and the systems weak, he added, personnel are deterred from reporting misconduct.
ZHAO YANRUI (China) urged a holistic approach to strengthen deterrence, education, oversight and management of United Nations officials and experts on mission to ensure professional behaviour and maximize prevention of criminal conduct. Further, a zero-tolerance policy must be adopted to combat impunity, and all countries — especially States of nationality of the accused — should take all legislative and judicial measures necessary to crack down on this criminal activity. She emphasized the importance of promoting international cooperation and coordination in matters of extradition and judicial assistance between States of nationality and host countries in which duty stations are located. Additionally, the United Nations and States exercising jurisdiction must strengthen cooperation, including in the area of information sharing. She added that, for its part, Chinese law includes provisions establishing jurisdiction over cases of this type and that the Government collaborates with Member States and the United Nations in that regard.
ANNA V. ANTONOVA (Russian Federation) said that administering justice to United Nations officials and experts on missions must be carried out in a way not to prejudice the privileges of these individuals and the Organization in general. Attention should be paid to preventing crimes and ensuring utmost respect to the Organization’s standards of conduct and staff rules. One of the most important requirements was to report the possible conflict of interest to one’s manager and to refrain from engaging in activities that might lead to it. Developing a system to combat these crimes was sufficient, she said, discouraging the creation of a separate legal instrument therefore. Further, criminal accountability was a prerogative of the State of nationality. A solution could be found in strengthening international cooperation and mutual legal assistance on criminal cases. The Secretary-General’s report mostly focused on measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. However, dangerous consequences of other forms of crime, such as acts of corruption, fraud and economic crimes, should not be underestimated. She called for more detailed descriptions of measures to prevent and cub these categories of crimes to be included in future reports
PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the main responsibility for alleged criminal acts resided with the State of nationality. The lack of international cooperation and jurisdictional issues should not prevent the perpetrators from being held accountable. He welcomed provision of technical assistance to States to enable them to adopt appropriate legislative measures. Therefore, he requested the Secretariat to continue its efforts to improve information exchange and communication with Member States. Underlining the importance of efficient implementation of corresponding reporting processes, he also encouraged the States to provide more up-to-date information on relevant investigations or prosecutions. He called on the Secretary-General to continue submitting reports on these issues with an overview of obstacles and practical problems the Organization faces in this area. Turning to victims of alleged crimes, he underscored that they should be aware of the support programmes available and of their rights.
The representative of Senegal said that, like other troop-contributing countries, Senegal has paid a high price in United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world. However, Member States must exercise jurisdiction to ensure that crimes committed by officials and experts on mission do not go unpunished, as the image of the United Nations depends on this. For its part, Senegal works to implement a zero-tolerance policy regarding crimes committed by such individuals, and has committed politically to subject any abuse to due investigation and appropriate punishment. She went on to underscore the jurisdictional primacy of States of nationality, welcoming United Nations efforts to refer cases to such States. Senegal established a national focal point to facilitate communication with the United Nations regarding such cases. It also trains peacekeeping troops before and during deployment. Noting the need for a credible legal framework with which to prosecute perpetrators and strengthen the investigative and prosecutorial capacity of Member States, she added her support for the establishment of a multilateral treaty on mutual judicial assistance and extradition.
MOON YOUNG KIM (Republic of Korea) stressed that crimes committed by United Nations officials and experts should not go unpunished. The State of nationality should establish the relevant jurisdiction to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice; investigate and prosecute alleged crimes in a timely manner; cooperate with the United Nations and appropriate national authorities to effectively address the problem; and ensure protection of victims and witnesses in the process. The exercise of jurisdiction should be done without prejudice to the privileges and immunities of the United Nations personnel pursuant to the relevant international laws. She expressed grave concern over the sexual exploitation and abuse and reaffirmed his full support for the zero-tolerance policy. She also highlighted the significance of preventing crimes through practical pre-deployment training, vetting measures and induction training. As a troop-contributing country to peacekeeping missions, the Republic of Korea provides an intensive training course for those who are to be deployed. “They are selected through a rigorous process among many eligible military personnel and are given instructions in the necessary professional ethics standards,” she added.
KHALILAH HACKMAN (Ghana), associating herself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that her country was a long-standing troop-contributing country of the United Nations. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s policy of zero tolerance, she added that the primary responsibility for investigations and prosecutions concerning United Nations officials and experts on mission must rest with the State of nationality. Urging Member States to promulgate requisite national laws that establish jurisdiction over such criminal acts, she drew attention to her country’s Armed Forces Act (1962) and Code of Service Discipline, both which ensure that all allegations of misconduct or crimes made against its personnel on mission are thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanctions applied where culpability has been established. Stressing the importance of addressing factors which obstruct effective accountability measures, such as the late submission of evidence, loss of evidence and sometimes the refusal by victims and witnesses to testify, she called for enhanced cooperation between concerned Member States and the United Nations.
AMMAR MOHAMMED MAHMOUD MOHAMMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that, because the actions of officials and experts on mission reflect on the credibility of the United Nations, a zero-tolerance policy must be applied with regards to criminal activity committed by such individuals. Member States must prevent impunity and impose sanctions on those individuals, particularly when the host country cannot. For its part, Sudan has adopted criminal legislation facilitating the investigation of these abuses, and is party to international, multilateral and bilateral agreements providing for judicial assistance. Stressing that strict measures must be taken against the authors of crimes “because justice must be visible when it is administered”, he said that immunities and privileges granted to international officials must not prevent national jurisdictions from prosecuting those responsible for crimes on their territories. Because host countries must be able to exercise judicial competence, clear criteria must be established for lifting the immunity of those responsible for crimes so they can be brought to justice, he added
Mr. YALELET (Ethiopia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, pointed out that his country was one of the largest contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions and served as the seat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Ethiopia also hosted a large number of United Nations personnel not subject to national jurisdiction and deploys personnel with similar immunity to other countries. As such, Ethiopia strictly adhered to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes committed by officials and experts on mission. He stressed that all nations must assume jurisdiction over crimes committed by their nationals who enjoy diplomatic immunity. He went on to underline the importance of establishing preventative measures that ensure personnel possess the necessary training and personality befitting their role as protectors and role models. Effective screening methods must be employed towards this end. Therefore, the United Nations must augment its internal mechanisms for investigation and accountability and strengthen protection against intimidation and retaliation for whistle-blowers and witnesses.
Ms. LBADAOUI (Morocco), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that official and experts on mission should obey the national legislation of the country notwithstanding the immunities and privileges that granted and called for an integrated approach to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse. She noted that her country has a legal framework that ensures fair treatment under the law for those subject to common law, including criminal proceedings. As a major contributor of troops and peacekeeping operations, Morocco carries out a holistic pre-deployment training. In addition to their initial training, Moroccan contingents are given targeted training on human rights and international humanitarian law. She spotlighted a significant progress made in bilateral cooperation on juridical extradition and assistance given internally and in the organization of trainings for military personnel from other countries, as well as exchange of expertise and information between States.
SERGIO AMARAL ALVES DE CARVALHO (Portugal), aligning himself with the European Union, said that, with several nationals deployed as officials or experts on mission, his Government took very seriously any crime, or allegations thereof. He highlighted the paramount importance of States in establishing national legal and practical frameworks suitable to ensure criminal accountability. He noted that his country provided information on national provisions regarding the establishment of Portuguese jurisdiction that would allow for a criminal prosecution for crimes committed in or outside the Portuguese territory, within certain conditions. This competence is articulated with international judicial co-operation in criminal matters, giving effect to the aut dedere aut judicare principle. He particularly encouraged legislative bodies of the United Nations system and related organizations to help ensure the coherence and coordination of policies and procedures relating to the reporting, investigation, referral and follow-up of credible allegations.
WIETEKE ELISABETH CHRISTINA THEEUWEN (Netherlands), associating herself with the European Union, said that, when peacekeepers serve in the United Nations, they share a common purpose to protect the vulnerable. Therefore, it was crucial to address instances of sexual exploitation and abuse by officials and experts on mission by focusing on measures aimed at prevention and response. She underscored that, while women peacekeepers play an important role in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, they risk being subjected to discrimination and sexual harassment and abuse themselves. This was unacceptable, she said, underscoring that discrimination against women peacekeepers must also be addressed through prevention and response efforts. She went on to stress that criminal accountability, investigation and prosecution by States of nationality were important for those people the United Nations seeks to protect, for peacekeepers themselves and for the Organization’s overall credibility. She added that this applied to all United Nations officials and experts on mission, highlighting her country’s zero-tolerance policy in this regard along with the Netherlands’ support for the similar policy employed by the Organization.
MINE OZGUL BILMAN (Türkiye), stressing the importance of constructive and efficient cooperation between States, as well as with the United Nations in ensuring accountability, said that when officials and experts commit serious crimes, and when those crimes are not addressed as appropriate, it will inevitably have broader negative consequences. Her country’s legislation contained the necessary rules, procedures and safeguards to ensure that jurisdiction be exercised over crimes committed by Turkish nationals aboard, including when serving as United Nations officials or experts, as well as crimes committed by third country nationals on the condition that the relevant legal requirements were met. Türkiye was also party to several international and bilateral agreements regulating legal cooperation on criminal matters and extradition. As a troop- and police-contributing country, Türkiye was participating in seven United Nations operations from the Middle East and Africa to Europe. It also supported other United Nations mandated operations conducted by other international and regional organizations. In this regard, she highlighted the work of the Partnership for Peace Training Centre, established within the Turkish Armed Forces, which is among the small number of training centres in the world offering the United Nations Military Observers Course.
ANDY ARON (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, underscored that all United Nations officials and experts must exercise the highest standards of integrity and respect local laws and customs in the performance of their duties. To this end, pre-deployment training is key. Indonesia — as a country currently contributing 2,686 personnel to six United Nations peacekeeping missions — was committed to upholding the highest standard of conduct for its peacekeepers. For such personnel, Indonesia employed a systematic approach, from a rigorous selection process to mission-tailored pre-deployment training and post-deployment assessment. It also established training centres for its own peacekeepers, along with those of other nationalities. Further, the Indonesian penal code provided for the exercise of jurisdiction over Indonesian nationals wherever they commit criminal offenses, also allowing for the prosecution of perpetrators of other nationalities when their actions affect Indonesia’s national interests. He also emphasized the need for the reporting of crimes allegedly committed by officials and experts on mission to be coordinated within an agreed legal framework between the sending State and the United Nations to determine the credibility of such allegations.
ENIOLA OLAITAN AJAYI (Nigeria), associating herself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, underscored that United Nations officials and experts on missions are expected to exhibit high moral character in performing their assigned tasks. Recruiting officials and experts with records of integrity and high moral character could promote sanity in this regard. She expressed a strong belief in measures that would enhance discipline among the Organization’s staff on mission, particularly through regular training. Stressing Nigeria’s zero-tolerance policy on criminal activities, especially abuse and sexual exploitation, she urged that perpetrators be referred to the State of their nationality for prosecution. “Crimes and criminality should not be condoned under any guise,” she added. She further welcomed measures that would be put in place to ensure sanity among United Nations officials and experts. In this regard, she reiterated Nigeria’s continued collaboration with other States and its support for the United Nations Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Victims Compensation Fund.
Mr. ABAKAR (Chad), associating himself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that his country’s criminal code applied to acts committed abroad by Chadians or residents, provided that these acts were punishable under the country’s law where they were committed and were qualified as a crime or and offense by Chad’s penal code. Turning to judicial cooperation, he noted that Chad provided for cooperation mechanisms in cases where cooperation agreements did not exist with the requesting State, including providing flexible mutual legal assistance proceedings and facilitating communication between the competent authorities of the requesting and requested State. All of these provisions reiterated his country’s commitment to leave no crime unpunished. He encouraged the Organization to strengthen its zero-tolerance policy conduct, as well as its preventative measures, including the prior training of officials. He also reiterated his country’s commitment to combatting impunity and its readiness to cooperation.
Rule of Law at National and International Levels
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General AMINA MOHAMMED introduced the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities (document A/77/213) in a pre-recorded video. The report addressed the achievements as well as the challenges to the rule of law which persisted on almost every front, including violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as conflict-related sexual violence. In addition, there was an erosion of the independence of judicial institutions and widespread attacks against democratic foundations such as independent media and civic spaces. The Organization responded to such challenges by offering assistance to Members requesting such help to tackle corruption, advance security, counter terrorism and crime, strengthen access to justice and advance transitional justice mechanisms through gender-sensitive and survivor-centred approaches.
She went on to say that some of the assistance and capacity-building efforts provided immediate, visible impact, while other were long-term projects whose potential has not yet been realized. All were genuine collaborations at the request of Member States and with respect for local customs and national ownership. At the international level, the report included updates on the continued activity to further international law, documenting the work of the International Law Commission as well as developments regarding multilateral agreements deposited with the Secretary-General. The United Nations continued to provide capacity-building assistance in relation to international instruments, norms, standards and rules.
“The peaceful settlement of disputes is a cornerstone of our Charter and international and hybrid courts are key actors in strengthening the rule of law,” she emphasized. Against the backdrop of the current and serious threats of nuclear war, global climate emergency and the immense devastation caused by infectious diseases, it was clear that the entire global community must commit to effective multilateralism to ensure a better future. To that end, the Secretary-General announced a new vision for the rule of law, seeking to redouble the commitment of the United Nations in supporting Member States’ efforts to strengthen the rule of law.
She went on to say that, after months of inter-disciplinary and inter-stakeholder consultations and informed by Member States through consultations on Our Common Agenda, that new vision is being developed to reinforce the centrality of the rule of law to all United Nations activities. The new vision bolsters interlinkages between the rule of law and peace, development, human rights and international law; and promotes people-centric, data-based, gender-sensitive, and forward-looking approaches. The new vision does not seek to redefine terms and is firmly grounded on agreed documents.
The achievements of the United Nations rule of law cohort outlined in the Secretary-General’s report served as a reminder of what is possible when political will and resources are brought together to make a tangible difference in people’s lives, she stressed. They served to motivate the Organization and Member States to go the extra mile in promoting people-centred approaches to governance, helping rebuild trust and accelerating progress towards sustainable development, while leaving no one behind.
MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasized that the rule of law at the national and international levels was essential to maintaining international peace and security, as well as achieving socioeconomic development. Among other things, he said that the principle of sovereign equality of States entailed that all States had equal opportunity to participate in law-making processes at the international levels; selective application of international law must be avoided; and the principle of the prohibition of the threat or use of force in international relations of States and peaceful settlement of disputes should constitute the cornerstone of the rule of law at the international level. He called upon the General Assembly and the Security Council to utilize Article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations to request advisory opinions on any legal question from the International Court of Justice, whenever appropriate. The Security Council should fully comply with international law and the United Nations Charter, and the General Assembly must play a leading role in promoting and coordinating efforts towards strengthening the rule of law.
However, the international community must avoid replacing national authorities with the task of establishing or strengthening the rule of law at the national level and, instead, should only provide them with the necessary support at their request, he continued. Also of importance was national ownership in rule of law activities, as well as strengthening the national capacities of Member States in the domestic implementation of their respective international obligations, including through enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building. Customs as well as national political and socioeconomic realities must be considered in order to prevent the imposition of pre-established models upon Member States. In this regard, he pointed out that there is no single agreed upon definition of the rule of law. “This fact should be taken into account in the preparation of reports,” he stressed, adding that those reports should be objective, neutral and balanced. Further, the data-gathering activities of United Nations bodies must not lead to a unilateral formulation of rule of law, he added.
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), speaking for the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic affected not only relations between States, but also people’s trust in Governments and international organizations. In times of crisis and uncertainty, public institutions must be predictable, reliable and accountable in their decision-making to give people confidence, as predictable governance builds trust and legal certainty among citizens. Further, the rule of law was vital for strong, healthy and resilient societies, he stressed, welcoming the Secretary-General’s offer to support States in renewing their social contracts with their citizens. Adhering to the norms of the rules-based international system was a necessary condition for lasting peace and security and that, by agreeing to the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are required to fulfil their obligations in good faith and settle disputes by peaceful means. Action that contravenes the Charter was unacceptable and must have consequences.
Against that backdrop, he spotlighted the Russian Federation’s actions against Ukraine over the past seven months. The General Assembly condemned the same as a violation of the Charter in its resolution adopted on 2 March. Next year’s report on the rule of law should reflect this case and its consequences. Adding his support for the establishment of new instruments and procedures to better deter violations of international law, he stressed that global security depends on all States complying with the rules. This included settling disputes through peaceful means and complying with the judgements and orders of the International Court of Justice. On that point, he called on all States to accept — without reservation — the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction. Noting that, without accountability, there can be no reconciliation, no lasting peace and no peace of mind for victims, he added that “we want our world to be ruled by the law, not by the mighty”.
SIMONA POPAN, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer said that rule of law was the foundation for good governance and open, participatory democratic processes. She noted that a shift to people-centred approach to rule of law was important and in line with Our Common Agenda. Spotlighting the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic on judicial systems, she noted that it caused delays of in-person hearings and in cross-border serving of judicial documents. This, in turn, led to the inability of obtaining in-person legal aid and the expirations of deadlines due to delays. The crisis also disproportionally affected women and girls and caused a rising prevalence of gender-based violence and conflict-related sexual violence. National prison administrations were obliged to take measures to curb the spread of the virus by temporarily suspending family visits and postponements of physical transfer of prisoners. The outbreak also had an impact on the exercise of procedural rights of suspects and accused, as direct communication with lawyers and interpreters became difficult. However, the pandemic set in motion important developments toward a digital, resilient European justice system.
In this regard, the European Union adopted new regulations aimed at making access to justice faster, more affordable and user-friendly for its citizens and businesses through digitalisation, she continued. Under the new rules, legal documents relating to court proceedings can be served electronically and communication between dispute parties or court proceedings can be conducted digitally via video-hearing and conferencing, in particular in small claims matters. Such measures significantly accelerated a transition towards upholding the rule of law through a digitalized approach. Turning to disinformation, she said that the phenomenon has the potential to undermine the credibility of institutions that play an essential role in upholding the rule of law. In the vein, within the framework of the Strategic Compass adopted in March, the European Union decided to develop a specific toolbox to make the bloc better equipped to counter disinformation
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), speaking for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations and associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, pointed out several key instruments in the promotion of international relations rooted in the rule of law. Among those was the principle of sovereign equality which provides equal and fair opportunities for all States to participate in decision-making processes that may have an impact on them on an international level. Underscoring the need for equal respect and fulfilment of the obligations of the Member States under international treaties and customary law, he called for avoiding a selective approach in this regard. Furthermore, the provisions of the 1970 Declaration of International Law on Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, constituted a landmark in the development of international law and relations among States.
He expressed serious concern at growing attempts to establish a so-called “rules-based order” that remains unclear and has the potential to undermine the rule of law at the international level. He also noted with concern the continued application of unilateral coercive measures, stressing than no State of group of States has the authority to deprive other State or group of States of their legal rights for politically motivated reasons. He said that the application in good faith of the generally recognized principles and norms of international law excludes any possible practice of double standards or the imposition by some of unilateral coercive measures, whether of a political or economic nature. He noted that these measures tend to be used to exert pressure, in particular, but not exclusively, on developing countries, and forcing their sovereign will.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica), speaking for the Justice Action Coalition, noted that peace and security were under pressure from complex, protracted and violent conflicts. The unjustified, unprovoked military aggression of one permanent member of the Security Council against its peaceful neighbour was a blatant violation of international law, with severe consequences far beyond the borders of Ukraine, she stressed. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequality, exacerbated injustice and contributed to unrest around the world. However, it also demonstrated the reality of interdependency and the heightened need for international cooperation. Preventing conflict, sustaining peace, promoting the rule of law and ensuring access to justice for all was crucial to building back better. Peace is not the absence of differences or potential conflict, she stressed; rather, it is a function of how these differences are resolved through fair, prompt justice.
She went on to note that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 5.1 billion people around the world lacked meaningful access to justice, and data showed that some groups — such as women and youth — were more likely to suffer injustice than others. Underscoring the international community’s collective responsibility to close the global justice gap, she also pointed out that technology can be harnessed to promote universal access to justice. Further, through the use of data, justice interventions can match people’s priorities and needs and allow the international community to consider what works and what does not in a specific context. Adding that justice neither begins nor ends in a courthouse, she stressed that adopting a people-centred approach and harnessing technology for justice will promote the rule of law and lead to more-inclusive societies.
TITHIARUN MAO (Cambodia), speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that the COVID-19 pandemic created new legal challenges in many parts of the world. ASEAN, a rules-based intergovernmental organization, has long been committed to stability and security in the region. Detailing the treaties, declarations and instruments that led to its success, he spotlighted ASEAN’s work with China to conclude an effective, substantive code of conduct regarding the South China Sea within a mutually agreed timeline. He went on to note that corruption hindered social and economic growth, impaired the efficiency of democratic institutions and hampered the progress of future generations. ASEAN was actively engaged in anti-corruption efforts with partners in the region, he said, emphasizing that transparent, accountable civil service was the foundation of good governance.
He also said that capacity-building, including through the delivery of technical assistance and the use of digital technologies, was critical for promoting the rule of law and ensuring effective, inclusive and accountable justice institutions. On that point, he welcomed continued United Nations support in carrying out activities under the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law. Reaffirming ASEAN’s commitment to good governance, accessible institutions, transparency and accountability, he said that this approach will promote respect for the rule of law. This will, in turn, contribute to greater socioeconomic development, peace, justice and prosperity for all, he added.
THÓRDUR AEGIR ÓSKARSSON (Iceland), speaking also for Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, said that Our Common Agenda presented a new vision of the rule with the assertion that justice is an essential dimension of the social contract. Turning to gender equality, he expressed concern that gender discriminating laws still constitute a problem in many parts of the world. In a democratic society certain limitations of civil liberties may be justified if provided by law and necessary for health protection but should not be applied arbitrarily. In this regard, he referred to a number of reported cases, where political pressure was put on judges during the pandemic. “When laws are promulgated, it is up to an independent judiciary to apply them impartially and in accordance with principles of justice without the risk of being subject to undue pressure due to unpopular verdicts,” he emphasized.
Stressing that the rule of law is also the foundation for peace and orderly processes for solving disputes at the international stage, he spotlighted as an example the prohibition in the Charter on the use of force as a fundamental norm of international law that must be observed consistently by all Member States, including those of the UN Security Council. Action in violation of the Charter, such as the Russian Federation’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine cannot be accepted and must have consequences. He also stressed that his and the countries for which he was also speaking were staunch supporters of the rule of law. He encouraged Member States to stand firm on the core principles of modern democracies and not weigh the rule of law against other societal interests in times of emergency. He further reported that Denmark presented itself as a candidate for a seat at the Security Council in 2025-2026.
ZOE RUSSELL (New Zealand), speaking also for Canada and Australia, said that respect for rule of law was integral in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The countries responded to the pandemic by taking extraordinary measures to protect public health and well-being, and were guided by the parameters provided by human rights frameworks. She also noted that the pandemic had a profound impact on the justice systems, with the physical closure of courts and tribunals. In this regard, the countries worked together to find new ways to maintain access to justice and the courts, including the use of new technologies in conducting legal proceedings. Moreover, she acknowledged the crucial work of independent, professional and recognized international courts and tribunals in maintaining the rules-based international order.
MARK SEAH (Singapore) said that the rule of law was fundamental to Singapore’s existence and — spotlighting its small size — to the maintenance of international peace and security. Noting the report’s references to examining the feasibility of a common international standard on the trade of goods used for capital punishment and torture, he stressed that his country — along with others — have expressed reservations on this subject. The General Assembly was not the appropriate body in which to regulate trade, he said, adding that such measures could serve as a pretext to introduce protectionist measures that would undermine the predictable, open, rules-based trading system. He also stated his rejection of any suggestion that capital punishment amounts to torture, stressing that his country does not condone the latter and pointing out that there is no international consensus against or international law prohibiting the former. Turning to the pandemic’s impact on the rule of law, he said that his country implemented measures to ensure that its legal and judicial bodies continued to function. In these trying times, Member States can draw inspiration from the success of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in strengthening the rule of law, he added.
MOHAMMAD AAMIR KHAN (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called for the consistent implementation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, on which the world order that has prevented world war since 1945 is based. Further, the Security Council must ensure consistent implementation of its decisions. Noting that the right to self-determination is a fundamental pillar of the world order, he pointed out that several General Assembly and Security Council resolutions have declared that attempts to unilaterally change the status of occupied territories whose people have yet to exercise that right are void. While most have been able to exercise this right peacefully, he said that some have been obliged to struggle to do so, spotlighting the situation in Palestine and in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. There will be no peace in the Middle East or South Asia until these peoples are able to exercise their right to self-determination, he stressed. The Security Council must invest more time and energy to secure implementation of its own resolutions, as laws become discredited unless they are consistently applied. He also called on all nations who affirm the importance of the rule of law at the national level to respect the same beyond their borders.
KAJAL BHAT (India), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that her county strongly adhered to the rule of law both at the national and international levels. India’s Constitution was firmly rooted in rule of law principles, ensuring separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the State and making each one accountable for their actions. Turning to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she underscored that her country revamped the legal system and strengthened its operating procedures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. The legal system now effectively utilizes information-technology-enabled virtual systems and communication facilities to minimize the effect of the global pandemic on people seeking legal and judicial redressal. “The remarkable reach of the internet has been harnessed by the Government of India and the Indian Judiciary to deliver legal aid and justice to people from every corner of the country, while addressing health concerns during the pandemic,” she said, adding that its judicial system ensured that the rule of law was enforced rigorously at the national level. In addition, the Government adopted major social development programmes targeted at poverty elimination, among other aims. Social and economic justice have been given equal importance in national governance as well.
SINA ALAVI (Liechtenstein) observed that the rule of law has been increasingly challenged not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by the Russian aggression against Ukraine. He underscored that his country worked with other States to secure the activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. He welcomed the ratification of the amendments by 43 States and reiterated his country’s commitment to work towards the universal ratification o the Rome Statute in its amended version. In addition, his country supported creation of a special tribunal for the crime aggression for Ukraine, He emphasized that this was an important opportunity to strengthen the international rule of law by holding those perpetrating aggression against Ukraine accountable. In addition, Liechtenstein — together with 10 other States — created the Council of Advisers on the Application of the Rome Statute to Cyberwarfare to investigate the role of the International Criminal Court in the criminalization and deterrence of cyberattacks. During the international law week in 2021, the Council of Advisers presented their final report on the application of the Rome Statute to cyberwarfare, he said.
LUCIA TERESA SOLANO RAMIREZ (Colombia), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law and the Justice Action Coalition, noted that her country’s long tradition of adherence to law was reflected in its Constitution. Such experience demonstrated that a complete peace must be built. Otherwise, no other rights can be realized. For this to happen, a process for inclusive, sustainable transitional justice is necessary. United Nations support is essential in this regard, she said, highlighting the Organization’s support for Colombia’s transitional-justice mechanism established in 2016 as part of the agreement ending the armed conflict in that country. She went on to detail the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ordinary and transitional justice in Colombia, noting that the Government adopted transitional measures to facilitate judicial activity during this period, including allowing judges to work with electronic files, conduct virtual hearings and certify documents online. The challenge now, she added, was to make these processes administratively sustainable. In this regard, United Nations support was important.
The representative of Belarus, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, said that the basis of upholding any legal order was to ensure that the subjects it was designed to regulate have confidence in the same. Noting repeated violations of the norms of international law, he stressed that Member States’ confidence in each other and in the authority of international law has been undermined. Without a minimum level of confidence among the majority of States, law becomes either a declaration or an instrument devoid of legitimacy. Further, he said that when there is strong pressure from other members of the international community — even in a softened, legal form — this is nothing more than coercion. Underscoring the need to consider confidence among States and other subjects of international law when discussing the rule of law, he said that crises regarding the efficacy of international law were direct manifestations of crises in the international community. Attempts to resolve problems with the use of force only incited confrontation, he added, stressing that replacing the post-Second-World-War international legal order with “certain rules only useful for some members of the international community” destroys the system of international law based on the Charter.
Right of Reply
The representative of India, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that it was unfortunate that one delegation misused this meeting to spread false, malicious propaganda against India. These statements deserve the Committee’s collective contempt, she said, noting that the world has not forgotten that Osama bin Laden was sheltered in that country. Even today, its leadership glorifies him as a martyr. Today’s baseless accusations were unsurprising, as they come from a nation encouraging sectarian violence against Muslims and suppressing the rights of minorities. She added that the entire territory of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are — and will always be — an integral, inalienable part of India.
The representative of Pakistan, noting that deflection and disinformation define India’s diplomacy, recalled that delegation’s false assertion that Kashmir is a part of India. In all its resolutions on the subject, however, the Security Council decided that the territory’s final disposition shall be determined by its people. Further, all United Nations maps depict Kashmir as disputed territory, and the oldest United Nations peacekeeping force is deployed along the ceasefire line in Kashmir. She underscored that, if India has any respect for international law and moral courage, it will “end its reign of terror”, withdraw its troops and let the Kashmiris freely decide their future in accordance with relevant Council resolutions.