Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations
to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity

New York, 26 November 1968
  • Introductory Note
  • Procedural History
  • Documents
  • Status
F o r t h c o m i n g
Introductory note to be published

The Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity entered into force on 11 November 1970 on the ninetieth day after the date of the deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession.

At its twenty-first session, in 1965, the Commission on Human Rights considered the “Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity”, following a proposal by Poland. At its twenty-third session, the Commission was asked, by the Economic and Social Council to prepare a draft convention on the topic. At its twenty-third session, in 1967, the Commission, having before it a first preliminary draft convention prepared by the Secretary-General, decided to establish a Working Group in order to consider the text of the draft. In 1976, the Working Group submitted its report to the Commission which in turn transmitted it to the Council along with the preliminary draft convention previously submitted by the Secretary-General. Following the transmission of these documents by the Council, the General Assembly, at its twenty-second session, in 1967, recommended that the Third and Sixth Committees establish a joint working group for the purpose of preparing a draft convention, the report of which would be examined by the Third Committee. The newly established Joint Working Group held several meeting and, on 30 November 1967, adopted a draft convention, which was approved by the Third Committee and submitted to the General Assembly, in 1968. The General Assembly adopted resolution 2391 (XXIII) on 26 November 1968, with the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity attached as an annex.

The Convention contains 11 articles. Article I provides that no statutory limitation shall apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity, irrespective of the date of their commission (article I). The Convention further provides that its provisions shall apply to representatives of the State authority and private individuals who participate in or who directly incite others to the commission of any of those crimes, or who conspire to commit them, and to representatives of the State authority who tolerate their commission (article II). The States Parties undertake to adopt all necessary domestic measures with a view to making possible the extradition, in accordance with international law, of the persons referred to in article II (article III), and to ensure that statutory or other limitations shall not apply to the prosecution and punishments of the relevant crimes (article IV).


English English

At its twenty-first session, in 1965, the Commission on Human Rights considered the “Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity”, following a proposal by Poland (E/CN.4/885; E/CN.4/L.733/Rev.1). On 9 April 1965, the Commission adopted resolution 3 (XXI) (E/4024), requesting that the Secretary-General undertake a study of the problem raised in international law by war crimes and crimes against humanity, and of existing legal procedures to ensure that no period of limitation applied to such crimes. The Commission decided to discuss the study as a matter of priority at its next session.

At its twenty-second session, in 1966, the Commission had before it the study undertaken by the Secretary-General which was based on an examination of international law relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and of relevant United Nations decisions, as well as information gathered from Governments on the issue (E/CN.4/906). The Commission additionally had before it statements submitted by several non-governmental organizations on the topic. After discussion of the topic, the Commission decided that the convention under consideration should be restricted in scope to the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity (Report of the Commission on Human Rights, E/4184). On the recommendation contained in the Commission’s resolution 3 (XXII) on 4 April 1966, the Economic and Social Council thereafter adopted resolution 1158 (XLI) on 5 August 1966, by which it urged, inter alia, all States to prevent the application of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity and to continue their efforts to ensure the arrest, extradition and punishment of persons responsible for them. The resolution also invited all Member States or members of the specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency to inform the Secretary-General of the measures they had adopted in relation to these requests, in order that the Secretary-General may submit the report on those measures to the Commission at its twenty-third session. Furthermore, the Commission was asked to prepare, at its twenty-third session, as a matter of priority, a draft convention to the effect that no statutory limitation shall apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity, irrespective of the date of their commission, for consideration by the Council at its forty-third session and for adoption by the General Assembly at its twenty-second session. The Secretary-General was requested to prepare a preliminary draft for such a convention to assist the Commission in its task.

At its twenty-third session, in 1967, the Commission had before it a note by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/926), the report of the Secretary-General on measures taken by governments (E/CN.4/927 and Add. 1-6), and a preliminary draft convention, prepared by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/928). The Commission decided to establish a Working Group in order to consider the text of the draft convention along with the comments, suggestions and proposals made during the debate of the Commission, and to report to the Commission on its findings (Report of the Commission on Human Rights, E/4322).

Due to lack of time, the Working Group was unable to consider the preamble or articles IV-VII, IX, IXa, X to XII of the Secretary-General’s draft. It did, however, include in its report draft texts for an article I, paragraphs 1 and 3 of an article II, and alternative texts for paragraph 2 of article II; it also considered article VIII, and an amendment submitted to the Commission by Greece (E/CN.4/L.917), as well as proposals and amendments by other States. The Working Group submitted its report to the Commission on 16 March 1967 (E/CN.4/L.943). The Commission adopted resolution 4 (XXIII) on 20 March 1967, by which it expressed, inter alia, its regret that it was not possible to prepare a draft convention, as requested, due to lack of time. The Commission transmitted to the Council the preliminary draft convention submitted by the Secretary-General and the report of the Working Group, along with all proposals submitted to the Commission and the records of the Commission’s discussions on this topic. The Commission requested that the Council transmit these documents and records to the General Assembly with the request that they be taken into consideration in the preparation and adoption by the Assembly of a draft convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the Commission requested the Council to request that the Secretary-General include in the provisional agenda of the General Assembly the question of punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity, as a new and separate item.

During its forty-second session, in 1967, the Council adopted resolution 1220 (XLII), as proposed by Czechoslovakia (E/L.1163), and as orally amended by the United Kingdom, whereby it expressed the hope that the General Assembly would, at the earliest possible moment, adopt a convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also transmitted the relevant documents to the General Assembly, recommending that it take them into consideration in the preparation of a convention on the topic; finally, it requested the Secretary-General to include the question in the provisional agenda of the General Assembly.

During its twenty-second session, in 1967, the General Assembly allocated this item to the Third Committee and recommended that the Third and Sixth Committees establish a joint working group for the purpose of preparing a draft convention, the report of which would be examined by the Third Committee. On 17 November 1967, it was agreed by both the Third and Sixth Committees that a Joint Working Group was to be established (A/6989). The Joint Working Group was to take into consideration the documents that had been transferred, in resolution 1220 (XLII), to the General Assembly.

The Joint Working Group held seventeen meetings from 20 November to 7 December 1967. On 30 November, the Joint Working Group adopted a draft convention, which consisted of a preamble and ten articles (Report of the Third Committee to the General Assembly, A/6989). The Third Committee debated the report of the Joint Working Group (A/C.3/L.1503 and Corr. 1) but was not able to complete consideration of the draft convention. On 13 December 1967, the Third Committee adopted a draft resolution submitted by Dahomey, Guinea, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria and the United Republic of Tanzania (A/C.3/L.1516) as amended by the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom (A/C.3/L.1520) for consideration by the General Assembly. On the recommendation of the Third Committee (A/6989), the Assembly adopted resolution 2338 (XXII) on 18 December 1967, by which it expressed its thanks to the Joint Working Group of the Third and Sixth Committees for the work it had accomplished and requested that the Secretary-General transmit to Member States the report of the Joint Working Group containing the text of the draft convention adopted by the Group and invited them to submit comments on the draft convention. In addition, the Secretary-General was requested to issue to Member States, before the General Assembly’s next session, a report containing the replies received regarding the text of the draft convention.

At the twenty-third session of the General Assembly, in 1968, the Third Committee had before it the draft convention submitted by the Joint Working Group and the comments of Governments relating to it, contained in the report of the Secretary-General (A/7174). The Third Committee decided, on the basis of a proposal of Poland, that it would not hold a general debate on the topic and instead it would consider the preamble and substantive articles of the draft convention straight away. On 15 October 1968, the Third Committee approved of the whole draft convention, as amended (A/7342). It recommended that the General Assembly adopt the convention. Accordingly, the General Assembly adopted resolution 2391 (XXIII) on 26 November 1968, with the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity attached as an annex.

The Convention entered into force on 11 November 1970 on the ninetieth day after the date of the deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession.


Text of the Convention

Selected preparatory documents
(in chronological order)

Provisional agenda of the twenty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/879/Add.1, 5 March 1965)

The question of punishment of war criminals: communication from the Government of Poland (E/CN.4/885, 5 March 1965)

Draft resolution submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, “Question of punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity”, submitted by Poland (E/CN.4/L.733 and E/CN.4/L.733/Rev.1, 25 March 1965)

Commission on Human Rights resolution 3 (XXI) of 9 April 1965 (Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity)

Report of the Commission on Human Rights, twenty-first session, held from 22 March to 15 April 1965 (E/4024)

Commission on Human Rights, Summary records of meetings nos. 815 to 816, 820, 825, 835 to 836 and 844, held, respectively, on 22 March to 9 April 1965 (E/CN.4/SR.815, 825, 835-6 and 844)

Third Committee of the General Assembly, Summary records of meetings nos. 1338 to 1341, held, respectively, on 11 and 12 November 1965 (A/C.3/SR.1338-41)

Study submitted by the Secretary-General to Commission on Human Rights, “Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity” (E/CN.4/906, 15 February 1966)

Statement submitted by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations (E/CN.4/NGO/133, 7 February 1966)

Statement submitted by the World Veterans Federation (E/CN.4/NGO/138, 23 March 1966)

Sub-amendment to the amendments of Austria, France, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States of America submitted to the Commission on Human Rights by Ukraine (E/CN.4/L.833/Rev.1, 28 March 1966)

Commission on Human Rights resolution 3 (XXII) of 28 March 1966 (Question of punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity)

Report of the Commission on Human Rights, twenty-second session, held from 8 March to 5 April 1966 (E/4184)

Commission on Human Rights, Summary records of meetings nos. 873 to 876, 878 to 879 and 889 to 890, held, respectively, from 23 March to 4 April 1966 (E/CN.4/SR.873-876, 878-879, and 889-890)

Economic and Social Council resolution 1158 (XLI) of 4 April 1966 (Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity)

Report of the Economic and Social Council, twenty-first session, held from 1 August 1965 to 5 August 1966 (A/6303)

Third Committee of the General Assembly, Summary record of meeting no. 1462, held on 15 December 1966 (A/C.3/SR.1462)

Summary prepared by the Secretary-General on the Report of the Commission on Human Rights on its Twenty-Third Session (E/4322/Add.1, 2 May 1967)

Report of the Secretary-General on measures taken by governments (E/CN.4/927 and Add. 1-9, 23 January 1967)

Note by the Secretary-General “Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity” (E/CN.4/926, 25 January 1967)

Preliminary draft convention, prepared by the Secretary-General, on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity (E/CN.4/928, 25 January 1967)

Amendment to the preliminary draft convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity, submitted by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/928) submitted to the Commission of Human Rights by Greece (E/CN.4/L.917, 9 March 1967)

Report of the Working Group, “Question of the Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity (E/CN.4/L.943, 16 March 1967)

Draft resolution submitted to the Commission on Human Rights , “Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity“, submitted by Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Israel, Nigeria and the Philippines (E/CN.4/L.967, 20 March 1967)

Amendment to the draft resolution submitted by Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Israel, Nigeria and the Philippines (E/CN.4/L.967) submitted to the Commission on Human Rights “Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity” (E/CN.4/L.968, 20 March 1967)

Commission on Human Rights, Summary records of meetings nos. 919, 921, 931 and 933 to 935, held, respectively, from 9 to 20 March 1967 (E/CN.4/SR.919, 921, 931, 933-935)

Commission on Human Rights resolution 4 (XXIII) of 20 March 1967 (Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity)

Report of the Commission on Human Rights, twenty-third session, held from 20 February to 23 March 1967 (E/4322 and Corr.1 and Add.1)

Draft resolution submitted to the Economic and Social Council, “Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity”, submitted by Czechoslovakia (E/L.1163, 5 June 1967)

Economic and Social Council Resolution 1220 (XLII) of 6 June 1967 (Question of the Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity)

Report of the Economic and Social Council, twenty-second session, 6 August 1966 to 4 August 1967 (A/6703)

Note by the Secretary-General “Question of Punishment of War Criminals and of Persons Who Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity” (A/6813, 14 September 1967)

Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, Summary record of meeting no. 1001, held on 17 November 1967 (A/C.6/SR.1001)

Third Committee of the General Assembly, Summary records of meetings nos. 1515 to 1518 and 1523, held, respectively, from 15 to 18 and on 22 November, 1967 (A/C.3/SR.1515-1518 and 1523)

Report of the Joint Working Group on the draft convention concerning the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity (A/C.3/L.1503 and Corr.1, 7 December 1967)

Third Committee of the General Assembly, Summary records of meetings nos. 1546 to 1550, held, respectively, from 11 to 13 December 1967 (A/C.3/SR.1546-1550)

Draft resolution on the draft convention concerning the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity contained in the Report of the Joint Working Group (A/C.3/L.1503) submitted to the Third Committee by Dahomey, Guinea, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, United Republic of Tanzania (A/C.3/L.1516, 12 December 1967)

Amendments to the draft resolution submitted by Dahomey, Guinea, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria and the United Republic of Tanzania on the draft Convention concerning the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity (A/C.3/L.1516) submitted to the Third Committee by the Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/C.3/L.1520, 13 December 1967)

Report of the Third Committee to the General Assembly, “Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity” (A/6989, 15 December 1967)

Revised amendment to the draft resolution recommended by the Third Committee (A/6989, para. 35) submitted to the General Assembly by Dahomey (A/L.543/Rev.1, 18 December 1967)

General Assembly resolution 2338 (XXII) of 18 December 1967 (Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity)

Note by the Secretary-General “Question of punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity” (E/CN.4/965, 5 January 1968)

Report of the Secretary-General “Question of punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity” (A/7174 and Add. 1-3, 21 August, 18 September, 14 October and 17 October 1968, respectively)

Third Committee of the General Assembly, Summary records of meetings nos. 1562 to1574, 1604 to1606 and 1618, held, respectively, from 7 to 15 October 1968, and on 12, 13 and 22 November 1968 (A/C.3/SR.1562-1574, 1604-6 and 1618)

Report of the Third Committee to the General Assembly “Question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity” (A/7342, 21 November 1968)

General Assembly, Verbatim record of plenary meeting no. 1727 held on 26 November 1968 (A/PV.1727)

General Assembly resolution 2391 (XXIII) of 26 November 1968 (Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity)


The Convention entered into force on 11 November 1970. For the current participation status of the Convention, as well as information and relevant texts of related treaty actions, such as reservations, declarations, objections, denunciations and notifications, see:

Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General