United Nations Office of Legal Affairs
By Under-Secretary-General HANS CORELL*
The present article — originally published in 1998 in International
Law: Theory and Practice, edited by K. Wellens — contains a presentation of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs. The article focuses on the most salient issues with which the Office is concerned. It also touches briefly on the role of the Legal Counsel both with the respect to his legal functions and in relation to the present reform of the United Nations Secretariat. Even if som time has elapsed since it was written, the article is still up to date. It should be pointed out, however, that after its publication, the Codification Division successfullt served the five-week Conference that on 17 July 1998 adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Also the Legal Counsel assisted the Secretary-General in his meeting with President Saddam Hussein in February 1998, resulting in the Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq concerning, inter alia, UNSCOM´s inspections of the Presedential Palaces.1
The Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) of the United Nations was established in 1946.2 Originally, it was organized as a department, but in 1954 it was reorganized into an office to reflect more closely its role in providing legal advice to the Secretary-General and acting
* The author is Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations. After graduating from Uppsala University, he held different positions in the Swedish judiciary from 1962 to 1972. From then on, he was legal adviser in the Ministry of Justice until 1979. In the same year, he was appointed Director of the Division for Constitutional and Administrative Law, and in 1981 he becam Head of the Legal Department of the Ministry. From 1984 to 1994, when he took up his present position, he was Ambassador and Head of the Legal and Consular Department of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinon of the United Nations. 1 The Legal Counsel was also in charge of the transfer, on 5 April 1999 after seven months of preparatory work, of the two Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie (Pan Am 103) case from Libya for trial by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the Security Council resolutions establishing the present United Nations missions in Kosovo and East Timor mean that the Organization must govern the two territories and exercise the legislative power within them. Needless to say, the legal questions related to these missions have put additional and unprecedented demands on the Office of Legal Affairs. 2 UNGA Resolution 13(1) of 13 February 1946.