By: Fizza Batool

UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A new global convention on preventing and punishing crimes against humanity is gaining increasing momentum in the international community. A few weeks ago, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) concluded its 72nd session during which the Legal Committee, known as the Sixth Committee, considered the United Nations International Law Commission’s (ILC) Draft Articles on this convention. This summer, at its 69th session, the ILC completed a first reading of the draft articles on a global convention for crimes against humanity, taking into consideration Special Rapporteur Sean Murphy’s Third Report. This session addressed a number of controversial issues, including extradition and the principle of non-refoulement. The Sixth Committee’s discussion centered on Chapter IV of the Report of the ILC on the work of its 69th session. Government responses during the last four sessions of the UNGA Sixth Committee meetings have been largely positive and this year was no different. Statements by States and entities were overwhelmingly positive and supportive about the proposal of this convention, and noted the incredible progress made by Professor Sean Murphy on the subject matter.

During the Sixth Committee’s six-week session, there were a total of 55 States and entities commenting, specifically addressing the work of Professor Murphy and the completion of the first reading of the proposed draft articles on crimes against humanity. Of these 55 responses, 42 were positive or strongly positive. There were a number of common themes present in governmental responses. First, governments noted the significance of developing a global treaty on crimes against humanity. For example, the government of Mozambique stated that it is “determined to cooperate and to lend its full support to the current world movement for preventing and combating crimes against humanity, in order to put an end to the impunity of perpetrators of those crimes and thus contribute to a better world of peace and security.”  New Zealand added that the “Commission’s work in this area presents an opportunity to address a gap in the international legal framework.” The Ukrainian government stated that “[e]stablishing universal legal framework for crimes against humanity has critical importance given the fact that there is no global convention dedicated to preventing and punishing crimes against humanity and promoting inter-State cooperation in that regard, even though crimes against humanity are likely no less prevalent than genocide or war crimes.”

Second, as in prior years, governments wanted to ensure that the new treaty would not conflict with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). States such as Australia, Romania, and Thailand have supported the ILC’s efforts not to depart from the Rome Statute, particularly in defining crimes against humanity.

Third, some States raised the MLA Initiative, a Multilateral Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition for Domestic Prosecution of the Most Serious International Crimes. The Netherlands noted that this is a “joint Initiative led by Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Senegal for a new treaty on mutual legal assistance and extradition, which would cover the crimes of genocide, war crimes as well as crimes against humanity….” Most States were of the view that the Crimes Against Humanity Convention and the MLA Initiative are complementary initiatives and therefore should develop side by side.

Washington University’s Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, launched in 2008 by Professor Leila Nadya Sadat has come a long way, but there is still more work to be done. Pursuant to Articles 16-21 of its Statute, the ILC has submitted the draft articles to the General Assembly and is now accepting comments from governments, international organizations and others, with the request that such comments and observations be submitted to the Secretary-General by December 1, 2018. The ILC will complete a second reading of the draft articles in 2018, after which international lawyers, experts, and civil society members who have been championing this cause for the last decade, are hopeful that the proposed convention will be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or 2020.