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75. U.S. statement to Sixth Committee on criminal accountability by UN staff and experts on mission (Oct. 25, 2007)

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

The United States regards abuses by personnel participating in UN peacekeeping missions, who are sent to areas in conflict and need to help those in dire distress, as a violation of trust. We applaud the efforts that Member States and the Secretary-General have invested in recent years to address this problem. We all recognize that there is a great deal that remains to be done.

My delegation welcomed the opportunity to address these important issues during last spring’s ad hoc session on this agenda item. During that session, we offered our preliminary views on the Report of the Group of Legal Experts. While we welcomed that report, we felt that it left a number of important questions unanswered, particularly in respect of its proposal regarding the possible negotiation of a multilateral convention with respect to criminal accountability for UN staff and experts on mission.

The report begins from the assumption that there are theoretical gaps in accountability mechanisms that could preclude accountability for crimes committed by UN staff and experts on mission in particular cases. But more information is needed on what practical problems, if any, are actually arising in efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by these categories of personnel and whether a convention would actually address such problems. During the discussions in the spring, we requested additional information on these questions to help us assess the utility of a convention. Other delegations indicated that they had similar questions and echoed these requests for further information.

Answers to these questions are important because the negotiation of a convention would require the dedication of significant resources, time, and political capital. As we noted last spring, the United States could not support commencing such a significant effort without being sure that such a convention is likely to be an effective solution to whatever problems currently exist in ensuring accountability for crimes committed by this category of personnel. A convention might be of some use if the problem to be solved is the lack of a legal basis for states to cooperate with each other in investigating or prosecuting such crimes or for states to prosecute their own nationals for crimes they commit abroad. The proposed convention would not, however, address other possible barriers to accountability, such as national definitions of crimes, such as rape, that make it difficult to prove guilt or to prosecute sexual conduct involving adolescents. We also note that a convention can only bind those states that become party to it, and thus that the proposed convention will only have practical value to the extent that states that are likely to host peacekeeping operations and the states of nationality of relevant staff and experts on mission choose to become parties. Our preference is to address these questions in practical terms, by identifying effective solutions to actual problems, rather than by addressing theoretical gaps for their own sake.

We had hoped that in the period between last spring’s session and our current meetings we would receive additional information on what practical impediments, if any, are actually being encountered in efforts to ensure accountability for crimes by UN staff and experts on mission in order to advance our discussions. We regret that the Secretariat’s additional written input on this topic did not address these questions and instead took the unusual form of a paper purporting to express the “support” of the Secretariat for particular proposals that are the subject of active discussions among Sixth Committee members. In the absence of such information, we do not expect to be in a position during the course of this week’s discussions to support a proposal to proceed with negotiation of a convention. Instead, we believe this working group’s efforts would be best devoted to considering more practical measures to promote accountability for crimes committed by UN staff and experts on mission. Such measures might include work on a statement calling on states to take stronger action domestically, work on “model laws” that states could pass at the national level to address such cases, increased effort by the Secretariat to monitor efforts by states to investigate and prosecute cases, and the naming and shaming of states that fail to take appropriate action.

We welcome the Sixth Committee’s continued attention to ways to promote accountability for crimes committed by UN staff and experts on mission and look forward to working with members of the Committee to address this important issue.


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