The Debate in the Sixth Committee on the Scope and Application of Universal Jurisdiction


On 18 October 2013, during the debate in the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly on the Scope and Application of Universal Jurisdiction, the Legal Adviser of the Permanent Mission of Italy, Mr Salvatore Zappalà, submitted the comments of his delegation supporting a more thorough analysis of the topic by the Committee, and also the possible involvement of the International Law Commission. After expressing satisfaction for the unanimous recognition of the principle of universal jurisdiction as a fundamental tool in ensuring that perpetrators of heinous crimes are brought to justice, he stated that:

although we must admit that there still are differences of views on the crimes covered by UJ, there is also a large consensus on the idea that this notion comes into play when fundamental values of interest for the international community as a whole are breached. In this regard there are a number of extremely serious international crimes for which treaties codifying international norms have recognized the principle of UJ. The relationship between custom and treaties in this regard is mutually enriching and one source does not exclude the other, although it may seem accurate to say that in many cases in the implementation of provisions at the national level — for reasons of specificity and precision linked to fundamental criminal law principles — the existence of an international convention as a basis for the enactment of UJ principles, plays an important role: e.g. in Italy, as per information also contained in SG report A/65/181 and more specifically in A/66/93, Article 7.5 of the criminal code allows UJ when provided for in international treaties.

Then, he noted that:

This is a subject that involves deep examination of notions of at least three branches of law with their respective complexities and guiding principles: international law (including international humanitarian law and human rights law), criminal law, and criminal procedure. In this regard, four more specific areas come to my mind but there are certainly more and several of them have already been mentioned by colleagues.

(i) the relationship of UJ with the principles and rules on the independence and impartiality of prosecutors and judges; (ii) the links with the national procedural systems of states which may grant prosecutors with broad discretion in opening cases or, on the contrary, may not allow for such discretion (I refer to the notions of mandatory v. discretionary prosecution); (iii) the links between UJ and mechanisms of international cooperation; and (iv) the role granted to victims as plaintiffs in some national systems which must also been seen as part of the equation. 

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