20 October 2009

Statement by Mr. Hossein Sadat Meydani

 Delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran before the Sixth Committee

on Agenda item 84: “Scope and Application of Universal Jurisdiction”

(New York, 20 October 2009)

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful


Mr. Chairman,

The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran aligns itself with the statement delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. I would like to make the following statement in my national capacity.


Mr. Chairman,

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction which authorizes the prosecution of the gravest crimes of universal significance which hurt the conscience of humankind, regardless of the locus delicti and the nationality of the offender and that of the offended, has long been the subject of hot debate among the scholars as well as the politicians and jurists. The central argument in favor of this doctrine is that justice shall be done with respect to perpetrators of such crimes; otherwise the international legal order would be impaired. Moreover, the prosecution and punishment of individuals responsible for grave crimes with international effects could prevent their commission in future.


The universal jurisdiction, therefore, empowers national courts to try individuals suspected of committing certain gravest crimes even though these crimes are committed neither in the national territory of the prosecuting State nor against the nationals of that State. The concept is not new. However, there has been an increasing tendency, in recent decade, to resort more frequently to this doctrine, on the one hand, and to extend it to a relatively wide range of crimes, on the other. This has often been done at the expense of violating certain principles and established rules of international law, in particular the principle of immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction, and consequently, in some cases, colliding with the principle of sovereign equality of States. This has provoked continuing debate over a number of key issues, including the legal validity of the doctrine, the range and nature of international crimes to which universal jurisdiction may apply, the question of connecting link between the alleged crime or the suspect with the prosecuting State, and the presence of the accused in the forum State. We believe that the present agenda item provides an opportune venue to discuss these questions and to find best answers to them. This should be done in light of other rules and principles of international law which are relevant to the exercise of national criminal jurisdiction.


Mr. Chairman,

According to a rule of international law, no State may exercise its criminal authority over the offences committed in the territory of another State, unless it has a connection link with either of the offender or the offended, or the offence is universally recognized (like piracy) or established in treaty law. This rule is derived from a basic principle of international law introduced in the famous Lotus Case where the Permanent Court of International Justice held that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.”


My delegation is of the view that a first step to lessen controversy over the doctrine of universal jurisdiction and avoid its misuse is to develop a clear definition for this principle and its legal nature. This would require that the crimes falling under this jurisdictional basis be identified. At the same time the conditions or preconditions for its application need to be clearly defined. My delegation submits that the so-called doctrine of universal jurisdiction is, indeed, a legal basis envisaged in a number of international treaties which sanctions the exercise of criminal jurisdiction by any member State over certain gravest international crimes, irrespective of their territorial and/or national link. Therefore, the scope and necessary conditions to apply this jurisdiction shall be defined and refined in accordance with the provisions of the relevant treaties. Hence, any judicial act by national courts that falls outside the treaty relations or customary international law would be contrary to international law. Furthermore, as some of the judges properly admitted inCase Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 before the International Court of Justice, “universal jurisdiction in absentia is unknown to international law”. It is noteworthy that in many countries, legislations which initially lacked this requirement were later amended in a way to ensure the presence of the accused in the forum State as a necessary condition for exercising criminal jurisdiction.


As concerns the Iranian domestic legal system, Article 8 of the Iranian Islamic Penal Code empowers Iranian courts to exercise criminal jurisdiction over crimes which are punishable under international treaties and could be prosecuted wherever the alleged perpetrators are found, if the suspects are present in the territory of Iran. Therefore, the Iranian legal system only recognizes the application of universal jurisdiction for those crimes which are punishable under international treaties and when the perpetrators are found in Iran. In other words, the exercise of criminal jurisdiction by Iranian courts over international crimes would be subject to membership of Iran in the relevant international instruments and the presence of the accused in Iranian territory.


Mr. Chairman,

My delegation concurs with those speakers who stressed that the proper application of the universal jurisdiction by national courts would meet its objective, namely ending impunity for the gravest crimes of international concern, if it is applied neutrally, in good faith, without double-standards and selectivity, and more importantly, taking into account other rules of international law, in particular sovereign equality, non-interference in internal affairs and the immunity of state officials. The fulfillment of these requirements would help national judicial systems to play a major role in the global campaign towards ending impunity for serious international crimes.


Thank you very much.  

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