United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal)
The United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal) is one of the main committees of the United Nations General Assembly. The Sixth Committee is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly.
The UN General Assembly has an express mandate to promote the progressive development of public international law. Article 13 of the UN Charter establishes, in particular, that the “General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of: (…) encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification. Subsequent practice has interpreted this provision as a broad authorization to elaborate new treaties on the widest range of issues, to adopt them, and to recommend them to states for their subsequent signature, ratification, and accession. While international law-making negotiations take place in a variety of specialized bodies of the United Nations, depending on their actual subject-matter, those negotiations related to general international law are usually held at the Sixth Committee.
Composition and method of work
The Sixth Committee has universal membership, that is, all member states of the United Nations are de jure members of the Sixth committee. Non member states with observer status in the General Assembly such as Switzerland before its ascension to the UN, and the Holy See may attend and participate in the discussions. The Sixth Committee is led by a chairman assisted by three vice-chairmen and a rapporteur. The chairman must conduct the formal meetings, propose the program of work, and solve any procedural hurdles that may rise. The Bureau seeks to ensure that the negotiations conclude with a positive outcome.
The Sixth Committee meets every year from late September to late November, in parallel with the General Assembly’s annual session. At the beginning of the session, the General Assembly assigns to the Sixth Committee a list of agenda items to be discussed. Those items usually include the annual reports of the International Law Commission, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, the Ad Hoc Committee established by Resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996 on Terrorism, the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization and the Host Country Committee, as well as the item Measures to Eliminate International terrorism. Following a formal discussion and the negotiation of any proposals, any recommendation adopted by the Sixth Committee is then submitted to the Plenary of the General Assembly for its final adoption. If a particular issue is of great technical complexity, the Sixth Committee may refer it to the International Law Commission or it may create a special subsidiary body to discuss it. The Sixth Committee follows a "mixed decision-making rule, where consensus is preferred but were a vote is still possible," that is, that while the Committee may take its decisions by voting, most resolutions are adopted though without a formal vote, by acclamation, unanimity, or consensus.
Treaties and resolutions negotiated at the Sixth Committee
- The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
- The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
- The 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law, Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
- The 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents (Protection of Diplomats Convention)
- The 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties
- The 1979 International Convention against the Taking of Hostages (Hostages Convention)
- The 1995 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel
- The 1994 Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism
- Also 1996 Supplement to the Declaration, adopted by General Assembly resolution 51/210, 17 December 1996
- The 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (Terrorist Bombing Convention)
- The 1997 Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses
- The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
- The 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (Terrorist Financing Convention)
- The 2001 Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts
- The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (Nuclear Terrorism Convention)
- The 2005 United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning
Since 2000 the Sixth Committee has been elaborating a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism to complement the existing counter-terrorism instruments. That proposed treaty has not yet been adopted.
- International conventions on terrorism
- United Nations Office of Legal Affairs
- Definition of terrorism
- The Charter of the United Nations: a commentary, (München: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1995), pp. 265 – 266; Paul C. Szasz, The Security Council Starts Legislating, 96 American Journal of International Law, (2002) p. 901.
- United Nations General Assembly Rules of Procedure, art. 98; Alan Boyle and Christine Chinkin, The Making of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) pp. 116 – 117.
- United Nations General Assembly Rules of Procedure, arts. 105-106; Robbie Sabel, Procedures at International Conferences, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) pp. 73-95.
- Herbert W. Briggs, The International Law Commission (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965); Alan Boyle and Christine Chinkin, The Making of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 170.
- C.F. Diaz-Paniagua, Negotiating terrorism: The negotiation dynamics of four UN counter-terrorism treaties, 1997-2005, City University of New York (2008) p. 37.