Practice Relating to Rule 160. Statutes of Limitation
In 1967, during a debate in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on the question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity, Cyprus stated:
The last paragraph of the preamble and article I of the [preliminary draft convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity], as well as Economic and Social Council resolution 1158 (XLI), took it for granted that the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity was a principle. If, however, the new notion of the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes was, as a necessary evil, made applicable to the past, it would not be possible to speak of a principle; whereas it was elevated to the status of a principle by a process of creating international law, it would be difficult to understand why certain offences against property, included in the available definition of war crimes, should be considered of such gravity as to be exempt from statutory limitation, while more serious crimes at the national level were subject to limitation. Statements that the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes became a principle because there was no statutory limitation in international law were inadmissible; for the absence of any provision on that point did not mean that the principle was accepted or recognized.
In a later meeting on the same issue in 1967, the representative of Cyprus stated:
23. … There had indeed been no precise definition of [the crimes such as those committed during the Second World War] in international law at the time when they were committed, nor had there been any provision relating to the applicability or non-applicability of the rules of statutory limitation. The absence of any reference to that in international law was regarded by some as proof of the existence of the principle of the non-applicability in international law. In his opinion, that was not the case, for international law was not yet as developed as domestic law, and it was to the characteristics and weaknesses of international law that its silence on that point was due …
25. While the principle of statutory limitation was well established in domestic criminal law, the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity, on the other hand, did not constitute an established principle of international law.