European Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations

views updated

European Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations

Criminal law normally permits the prosecution of accused offenders only for prescribed periods of time, outside of which no legal actions are possible—this kind of restriction known as statutory limitation. In January 1965 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recommended that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CM) draw up a Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations to Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes. It was the position of PACE that member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) should take appropriate measures to disallow that crimes that had been committed with political, racial, and religious motives before and during World War II (and more generally crimes against humanity) could remain unpunished simply by virtue of the application of statutory limitation.

Finding that several CoE member states had already adopted, as part of their domestic laws, measures that tended toward the nullification of statutory limitation with respect to crimes against humanity, and taking into account that United Nations (UN) organs were dealing with the same matter, the CM proposed that the negotiations for an international convention should take place within the wider framework of the UN.

In December 1968 the UN General Assembly adopted a draft Convention on the nonapplicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, of the member states of the CoE, only one (Cyprus) voted in favor of the Convention.

In January 1969, attentive to the fact that most CoE member states had voted not to accept the UN Convention, PACE adopted a recommendation that reiterated the invitation it had extended to the CM in January 1965. Also in January 1969 the CM decided to include the subject of statutory limitation in its intergovernmental work program for examination by the European Committee on Crime Problems (ECCP). In May 1973 the CM adopted the draft European Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitation to Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, which was opened for signature in January 1974. It entered into force on June 26, 2003, following its ratification by Belgium. It had previously been ratified by the Netherlands (1981) and Romania (2000). France became a signatory to the Convention in 1974.

The Convention requires that the contracting states undertake to adopt any and all measures as are necessary to secure that statutory limitation shall not apply to the imposition of or enforcement of sentences for: (1) crimes against humanity, as specified in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; (2) war crimes, as specified in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, or any comparable violations of the laws of war and/or customs of war existing at the time of the Convention's entry into force (in 2003); and (3) any other crimes of a comparable nature that the contracting states believe may be established as such in future international law. The Convention stipulates that crimes for which statutory limitation does not apply should be of a particularly grave character, by virtue of either their factual elements and premeditated nature or the extent of their foreseeable consequences (Article 1). The Convention applies to crimes committed by a state after the document's entry into force in that state, as well as to crimes committed before its entry into force, provided that the statutory periods of limitation from that time are not yet expired (Article 2).

The Convention was not a great success with the CoE member states. The domestic laws of most states already provided for the nonapplication of statutory limitation to the crimes referred to in the Convention.

SEE ALSO Crimes Against Humanity; Genocide; International Law


Fawcett, J. E. S. (1965). "A Time Limit for Punishment of War Crimes." The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 14(part 2):327–632.

Kreicker, H. (2002). "Die völkerrechtliche Unverjährbarkeit und die Regelung im Völkerstrafgesetzbuch." Neue Justiz 6:281–286.

Triffterer, Otto, ed. (1999). Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Baden Baden, Germany: Nomos.

Hans Christian Krüger
Alessia Sonaglioni

About this article

European Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations

Updated About content Print Article


European Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations