13 February 2003

United Nations Expert Group on the Application of United Nations Standards and Norms in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

VIENNA, 13 February (UN Information Service) -- A meeting of a group of experts, which convened in pursuance of ECOSOC resolution 2002/15, concluded its work in Stadtschlaining, Austria today. It was organized by the Centre for International Crime Prevention of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and was co-sponsored by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The meeting, which was held at the Peace Centre in Castle Schlaining, Burgenland, from 10 to 12 February 2003, was made possible through extra-budgetary contributions provided by the Governments of Austria, Canada and Germany.

Over 40 participants, including experts representing all regions of the world, government observers, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies, United Nations-affiliated and regional institutes, as well as non-governmental organizations met to discuss the application of United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice, and to make recommendations to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice at its twelfth session, to be held in Vienna in May 2003.

United Nations standards and norms cover a wide spectrum of crime prevention and criminal justice issues, from the treatment of prisoners to measures on restorative justice. The instruments are not legally binding, but provide benchmarks against which States can gauge their criminal justice reform efforts. The first such instrument -- the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners -- was adopted in 1955. The latest -- designed to promote restorative justice measures in criminal justice systems -- was adopted in 2002. One of the issues with which the meeting was tasked was to recommend improved methods of reporting to the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on how the standards and norms are applied in various countries. Experts at the meeting were of the opinion that the entire reporting process should be guided by the need to relate it to the main programme priorities of the United Nations, involving strengthening the global rule of law, good governance, sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty.

The meeting took note of the extensive work of the United Nations and individual Member States in the application of the United Nations standards and norms, work which has left its mark. At the international level certain principles and provisions contained in the standards and norms have been integrated into legally-binding instruments. For example, several principles enunciated in the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power have been incorporated into the statutes and rules of the international criminal tribunals, and in the articles of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners have provided the basis for the development of the European Prison Rules, which in turn have been used by the European Court of Human Rights in its jurisprudence.

The meeting noted also that the impact of standards and norms can be seen in the work of other United Nations bodies. For example, the Commission on Human Rights has mandated various special rapporteurs to deal with issues covered by particular standards and norms (e.g. independence of the judiciary), while the Human Rights Committee established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights draws on existing standards and norms when reviewing country reports, as well as individual complaints. The drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child drew on some standards and norms, and the Committee established under the Convention actively deals with various juvenile justice standards.

Held at the Peace Centre in Burg Schlaining, which is dedicated to providing a forum for meetings on peace research and peace education, the meeting noted a growing area of direct application of the standards and norms was within the context of ongoing peacekeeping missions and in post-conflict reconstruction. It was noted that in efforts to restore a functioning economy, create a free and fair political system, and strengthen the development of civil society, the rule of law had to first be established. The rule of law was a paramount consideration for the participation of the local community in the justice system. The culture and traditions of a local society must be understood and the law or norms and standards of justice introduced must not supplant, but complement that culture and those traditions. That is unless it can be shown that the particular tradition would be to the detriment of that society's development or harmonious co-existence. The role that the United Nations standards and norms can play in this regard was stressed by the meeting, which noted that some inroads in that direction had already been made. The meeting was of the opinion that the task of advancing this kind of work was a serious one, and required very thorough consideration by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

The meeting also stressed the importance of the assessment of the application of standards and norms as a means of making better informed decisions on technical assistance. Various proposals were made on how to identify desirable practice or needs for technical assistance, and how the standards and norms themselves can be used to promote the strengthening of crime prevention and the operation of criminal justice systems.

The report of the expert-group meeting, containing concrete recommendations, will be submitted as an addendum to the Secretary-General's report on the Use and Application of United Nations Standards and Norms in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice for the consideration and action of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice at its twelfth session, in May 2003.

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