UN General Assembly: Sixth Committee: Agenda Item 84: The Scope and Application of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction: Statement by Counsellor Sari Mäkelä, Legal Adviser, Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations, New York, 12 October 2011
I wish to thank the Secretary-General for his report (A/66/93) and the Secretariat for the informal compilations of instruments and court decisions as well as the States that have submitted information and observations on today’s topic. As the principle of universal jurisdiction is of great importance to my delegation, I would also like to offer a few comments on behalf of Finland.
For us, the principle of universal jurisdiction is an important tool in ensuring accountability. It is the primary responsibility of national courts to ensure that those guilty of the gravest crimes are brought to justice. In instances where, for a variety of reasons, a case cannot be tried in the State where the crime was committed or in a State with any link of active or passive personality, or other grounds of jurisdiction recognised in international law, the principle of universal jurisdiction may provide a basis for national authorities of another State to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators.
Having said that there are of course a number of significant advantages in trying a case in the jurisdiction where the crime has taken place. Among those is the possibility for victims to participate and for victims and affected communities to be better aware of the efforts to bring alleged perpetrators to justice. It is therefore important to address the needs of the overall rule of law capacity where needed.
The principle of universal jurisdiction is not a novelty in criminal law. It is generally agreed that international customary law allows the use of universal jurisdiction with regard to certain international crimes but views are divergent as to the exact scope of the principle. Underlying notions of universal jurisdiction may also be contained in conventions which oblige states parties to either extradite or prosecute suspects of acts prohibited by such conventions, although the two concepts are separate and distinct from each other.
Issues relating to the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction have also been subject to discussion: Is the presence of the alleged perpetrator required in the State exercising jurisdiction? Is universal jurisdiction complementary or secondary to other bases of jurisdiction? Does amnesty granted e.g. by the State of territoriality bar prosecution also in other States?
Also issues relating to immunities have been raised in connection with universal jurisdiction even though they apply similarly also with regard to other bases of jurisdiction.
The question for us is how and where these legal questions could most effectively be considered, given the complexity of the issues at hand. As was noted by my delegation last year, Finland finds that issues relating to the principle of universal jurisdiction could benefit from closer study by the International Law Commission which is already considering two related topics, namely the obligation to extradite or prosecute as well as immunity of state officials. Such consideration could clarify many of the issues mentioned earlier. Let me add, however, that we do not see any need for the establishment of a new regulatory mechanism for the exercise of universal jurisdiction. As far as potential disputes are concerned, the States involved should in our view use existing mechanisms for dispute resolution, in particular the International Court of Justice, where necessary.
Universal jurisdiction is an established principle in international law applied by courts whose independence must be respected. Impunity is no longer an option, and we must not seek to limit the scope or application of the principle of universal jurisdiction in a way that would suggest otherwise.
I thank you.