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UN Committee Adopts Draft Convention That Would Bar Limitations on War Crimes

The Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee of the General Assembly (Third Committee) Wednesday adopted a draft convention on the non-applicability of statutes of limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The vote was 58-2 with 27 abstentions. Nations ratifying the convention would undertake to adopt legislative or other measures, in keeping with their constitutional processes that would ensure that no statute of limitations would be applied to the prosecution and punishment of the crimes referred to, and to abolish such limitations where they exist. The draft convention was prepared last year by a joint working group of the Third Committee and the Sixth Committee (legal committee) on the basis of documents transmitted to the General Assembly by the Economic and Social Council. The draft, as amended during the current deliberations of the Third Committee, defines war crimes and crimes against humanity and states the obligations of nations in this respect. The provisions also apply to direct incitement or conspiracy to commit the stated crimes.

The draft convention noted that none of the declarations, instruments or conventions of the UN relating to the prosecution and punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity made provision for a period of limitation. It noted further that such crimes were among the gravest crimes against international law and that the application to them of the rules of municipal law relating to periods of limitation for ordinary crimes was a matter of serious concern to world public opinion. The draft said that “the effective punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity is an important element in the prevention of such crimes.” War crimes, according to the draft, are as defined by the International Tribunal of Nuremberg on Aug. 8, 1945. Crimes against humanity, whether committed in time of peace or war, were also defined by the Nuremberg tribunal. In the amended draft they include eviction by armed attack or occupation and inhuman acts resulting from a policy of apartheid and genocide.