NAM’s Call to End Abusive Exercise of Universal Jurisdiction

The term “universal jurisdiction” refers to the idea that a national court may prosecute individuals for any serious crime against international law — such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture — based on the principle that such crimes harm the international community or international order itself, which individual States may act to protect. Generally, universal jurisdiction is invoked when other, traditional bases of criminal jurisdiction do not exist, for example: the defendant is not a national of the State, the defendant did not commit a crime in that State’s territory or against its nationals, or the State’s own national interests are not adversely affected. However, it is widely believed that the scope and application of universal jurisdiction must be clearly defined to avoid abuse of the principle, which could endanger international law, order and security.

The Non-Aligned Movement that strives for a just world order has called upon States to refrain from abuse of Universal jurisdiction , and also recognized the need for further consideration at the United Nations of the agenda item entitle “Scope and Application of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction. NAM Member States have always stood against the abusive exercise of Universal Jurisdiction. At the 69th session of the UN General Assembly held on 15 October 2014, many NAM countries insisted that scope and application of universal jurisdiction must be clearly defined to avoid abuse of the principle, which could endanger international law.

Iran speaking on the behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement stated that the sovereign equality of States and non-interference in the internal affairs of States should be respected in applying the principle of universal jurisdiction. In that regard, the immunity of high-ranking officials should be respected. Not to do so violated the sovereignty of States.

Reminding the Committee that the item had been introduced to its agenda due to the abuse of the principle, in some cases by national courts against officials of other sovereign nations, Iranian delegate said those concerns should be addressed. In addition, there were questions as to the range of crimes falling under universal jurisdiction and conditions for its application and that further clarification from decisions and judgments of the International Court of Justice and the work of the International law Commission might be useful to that discussion. The delegate from Sudan, associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that further careful and objective study was needed of the principle.

Discussion of the matter must take into account the principles of equality of sovereignty and non-intervention of internal affairs of States, and must focus on the scope of application. Furthermore, priority must be given to national jurisdiction. Koteswara Rao, the Indian delegate associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, put forward India’s position on the issue and said that the question that arose was whether the jurisdiction, as provided for specific serious international crimes under certain treaties, could be converted into a commonly exercisable jurisdiction, irrespective of whether or not the other State or States were a party to those treaties. Several issues remained unanswered, including those related to the basis of extending such jurisdiction; the relationship with the law relating to immunity; pardoning and amnesty; and harmonization with the domestic laws.

Deputy Permanent Ambassador of Iran to UN Gholamhossein Dehghani on October 20, 2015 put forward the NAM’s principled position on the issue in his remarks that the Non-Aligned Movement firmly believes that the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, particularly the sovereign equality of States as well as their political independence and non-interference in internal affairs of other States, should be strictly observed in any judicial proceedings. In this regard, the involvement of incumbent high-ranking officials should be dealt with in conformity with international law. The exercise of criminal jurisdiction by national courts, by invoking universal jurisdiction, over high-ranking officials who enjoy immunity under international law, violates the sovereignty of States, which is one of the most fundamental principles of international law”. NAM therefore has called for an end of abuse of universal jurisdiction and, therefore believes that the immunity of the States officials, which is deeply rooted in the Charter of the United Nations and firmly established in international law, should be fully respected.

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