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UN legal counsel backs convention on criminal accountability of UN officials

[JURIST] The United Nations Legal Counsel [official website] said Monday that an international convention may be the solution to jurisdictional problems of criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission [press release; background materials]. Addressing the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, Under-Secretary-General Nicolas Michel [JURIST news archive] said that offenders comprise a very small percentage of UN workers but remain a significant concern, particularly where a country is unable to prosecute alleged criminal conduct. In September, a group of legal experts presented recommendations [UN Secretariat note] on the issue, emphasizing the need for as many member states as possible "to be able to assert and exercise criminal jurisdiction." As a short-term solution, Michel suggested that the General Assembly encourage member states to prosecute their nationals accused of committing crimes while on UN missions. The General Assembly will revisit the issue October 26.

UN officials and mission workers have been involved in a number of high-profile scandals recently. In August, Bangladesh sentenced UN Special Rapporteur Sigma Huda [JURIST report] to a three-year jail term for her involvement in a corruption scheme. While UN experts are generally granted immunity from prosecution under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [PDF text], UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon refused to extend immunity to Huda [JURIST report] in July, saying that the allegations against her "appear not to be related to, or otherwise fall within, her functions as special rapporteur." In January, the government of Southern Sudan joined a UN probe [JURIST report] of alleged sex crimes committed by international peacekeepers against at least twenty Sudanese children in Juba.

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