This module is a resource for lecturers
United Nations Standards and Norms
The UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice are internationally agreed non-binding normative resolutions adopted under either the UN Congresses on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the UN General Assembly (GA), or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Until the creation of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), the Congresses, which meet every five years, had the role of standard-setting in this area. With the creation of the Commission, in 1992, the role of setting standards is now with the CCPCJ, a subsidiary body of the ECOSOC. The Commission recommends standards for adoption by either ECOSOC or the GA.
Since 1955, approximately 60 different instruments containing standards and norms have been adopted. These relate to persons in custody, non-custodial sanctions, restorative justice, justice for children, crime prevention, violence against women, violence against children, justice for victims, good governance, the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of criminal justice personnel, access to legal aid, international cooperation in criminal matters, and the prohibition of torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition to setting forth detailed minimum standards and providing technical guidance for specific institutions or professional groups, the UN standards and norms elaborate progressive criminal justice and crime prevention visions and philosophies, such as restorative justice and community policing. The UN standards and norms provide a solid basis for crime prevention and criminal justice programming, and UNODC has elaborated a range of tools to assist UN Member States in implementing reforms in law, policy, and practice.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
Established by the United Nations Charter in 1945, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is one of the six main organs of the UN, and is the central platform for fostering debate and innovative thinking, forging consensus on ways forward, and coordinating efforts to achieve internationally agreed goals. ECOSOC advances the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - and is responsible for the follow-up to major UN conferences and summits.
The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ)
Established by ECOSOC, upon request of General Assembly (GA) Resolution 46/152, CCPCJ is one of the functional commissions of ECOSOC, acting as the “principal policymaking body of the UN in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice” (UNODC, 2019). CCPCJ is the essential mechanism for practical collaboration among States on crime and criminal justice issues. Its mandate and priorities are to improve international action to combat national and transnational crime, and to promote efficiency and fairness of criminal justice administration systems. CCPCJ is the forum where Member States negotiate and agree on international standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice (UNODC, 2019).
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the office of the UN Secretariat designated as the guardian of the UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice. The two governing bodies, for UNODC, are the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). UNODC provides substantive advice and contributes to the development of normative texts, including by bringing Member States together through Expert Group Meetings (EGM), Intergovernmental Expert Group Meetings (IEGM), and acting as secretariat to the key formal intergovernmental fora pertaining to UNODC mandates. For the mandates on crime prevention and criminal justice, the intergovernmental fora are the CCPCJ, which is held annually, and the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which is held every five years. Resolutions are adopted through an intergovernmental process of negotiation and agreement on common language which accounts for differences in legal traditions, systems, and structures. Through this process, Member States forge a collective vision of how crime prevention and criminal justice systems should be structured.
The authoritative status of the UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice
While not directly legally binding, the UN standards and norms are the outcome of intergovernmental processes that impart the expectation, and the shared aspiration, that Member States will uphold and promote the practical implementation of the UN standards and norms at the national level. The legitimacy and authoritative status of all normative instruments in public international law, including the UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice, derives from the fact that they are generated by the agreement of Member States.
A range of stakeholders make use of the UN standards and norms to frame and/or debate aspects of national law, policy and practice. Such stakeholders include human rights defenders, academics, policymakers, parliamentarians, the media, politicians, lobbyists, community activists or interest-group representatives, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In some instances, these standards and norms are given legal force, nationally, when incorporated by Member States into domestic law.
The Rule of Law
The rule of law refers to “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards” (United Nations Security Council, 2004, para. 6).
Next: Topic one - Introducing the United Nations standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice vis-à-vis international law