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Sixty-third session

The rule of law at the national and international levels (agenda item 79)

Summary of work

Background (source: A/63/100)

This item was included in the provisional agenda of the sixty-first session of the
General Assembly, in 2006, at the request of Liechtenstein and Mexico (A/61/142).
At that session, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to prepare an
inventory of the current activities of the various organs, bodies, offices, departments, funds and programmes within the United Nations system devoted to the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels for submission at its sixty-third session; and also requested the Secretary-General, after having sought the views of Member States, to prepare and submit, at its sixty-third session, a report identifying ways and means for strengthening and coordinating the activities listed in the above-mentioned inventory, with special regard to the effectiveness of assistance that might be requested by States in building capacity for the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels (resolution 61/39).

At its sixty-second session, the General Assembly reiterated the two requests it had
made in resolution 61/39; and invited the International Court of Justice, the United
Nations Commission on International Trade Law and the International Law Commission to comment, in their respective reports to the General Assembly, on their current roles in promoting the rule of law (resolution 62/70).

Consideration at the sixty-third session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 6th, 7th, 8th and 26th meetings, on 13 and 14 October and on 14 November 2008.

The Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, introduced the reports of the Secretary-General on the agenda item (A/63/64, A/63/154, A/63/226). The Deputy Secretary-General made a statement on the work of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group.

Statements were made by the representatives of New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), France (on behalf of the European Union, the candidate countries Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the countries of the Stabilization and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Armenia aligned themselves with the statement), Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Kenya (on behalf of the African Group), Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Cuba, the Republic of Korea, China, Egypt, Japan, Pakistan, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Singapore, Mozambique, Norway, Zambia, Nigeria, Myanmar, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lesotho, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the Russian Federation, Viet Nam, the United Republic of Tanzania, Qatar, Ghana, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the Syrian Arab Republic, the United States of America, Kuwait, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), South Africa, Mexico and Azerbaijan. Statements were also made by the observers of the Holy See, the International Development Law Organization and the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization.

In their general observations, delegations reiterated their strong commitment to the promotion of the rule of law, which was at the centre of the United Nations efforts in the field and needed to be articulated with the guarantees for human rights, development goals and support for democratization. Several delegations emphasized the importance of the promotion of the rule of law at the national level and provided information on relevant features of their own system in this regard. It was indicated that technical assistance by the United Nations and other external actors should be provided at the request of the recipient State, with a view to further enhancing national ownership.

The view was expressed that the promotion of the rule of law at the international level needed to be considered as complementary to activities performed at the national level. On the international plane, delegations put particular emphasis on the codification and progressive development of international law as well as on issues relating to the adoption and implementation of treaties and to the pacific settlement of disputes, in particular by encouraging resort to the International Court of Justice. Some delegations also mentioned efforts made to enhance the dissemination and teaching of international law. In this regard, reference was made to the need to make a better use of electronic resources, as exemplified by the launch of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law.

Several delegations also mentioned the need to pay particular attention to the promotion of the rule of law at the institutional level. According to these views, the functions and mandates of the General Assembly should not be infringed upon by other organs and should be respected by Member States. Mention was specifically made of the decisions of the Security Council. The view was expressed that the Security Council should pay particular attention to the requirements of the rule of law in the context of the activities of its Sanctions Committees.

Delegations welcomed the inventory of the current activities performed system-wide by the United Nations for the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels (A/63/64). It was emphasized that this inventory, by reflecting the important commitment of 40 United Nations entities to promoting the rule of law, illustrated the need for better streamlining and coordination within the system

Delegations also welcomed the report aimed at identifying ways and means for strengthening and coordinating the activities listed in the inventory (A/63/226). They particularly supported the approach based on developing coordination, promotion strategies and partnerships. Appreciation was also expressed for the follow-up tools envisaged in the report, such as a joint strategic plan for the implementation of a common approach to rule of law assistance, the establishment of a rule of law website and the creation of a trust fund. It was noted that this report did not contain sufficient proposals for enhancing coordination within the United Nations.

Several delegations expressed their appreciation for the establishment and work of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit. The view was expressed that the Group and the Unit should have a coordinating rather than operational function and should focus on technical assistance as the area where progress needed to be made as a matter of priority. It was suggested that a focal point be established in order to centralize and redirect requests for assistance by Member States. As to the financing of the Rule of Law Unit, a preference was indicated for adequate resources being provided through the regular budget.

As to the future consideration of the agenda item, the view was expressed that the Secretary-General should prepare an annual report on the activities of the United Nations system in the field of the rule of law, with a particular focus on specific themes. In this respect, several delegations reiterated their support for a thematic and focused debate, based on the selection of one or two relevant subtopics, which should not overlap with the work done by other Committees. A wide range of views was however expressed concerning the theme of the subtopic to be chosen for the next session. Suggestions previously made regarding strengthening criminal justice at the international and national levels, with particular reference to “legacy” issues, were reiterated. It was suggested to deal with the role of the International Court of Justice and other international tribunals in promoting the application of international law and to study the implementation of international standards at the national level. The view was expressed that the Committee should first try to reach a common understanding of the concept of the rule of law at the national and international levels. Other proposals concerned transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations; technical assistance and capacity-building, especially for the implementation and interpretation of international obligations and in post-conflict situations; the role of the International Criminal Court in the establishment of the rule of law; the convening of a conference to adopt a Declaration on the Principles and Purposes of the Rule of Law at the National, Regional and International Levels.

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 26th meeting, on 14 November 2008, Mexico introduced, on behalf of the Bureau, a draft resolution entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” (A/C.6/63/L.17). The Secretary of the Committee made a statement regarding the financial implications of the draft resolution (A/C.6/63/SR.26). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/63/L.17 without a vote. Following the adoption of the draft resolution, the Sixth Committee agreed that the understanding reached in connection with operative paragraph 10 of draft resolution A/C.6/63/L.17 would be issued in a Note by the Chairman (A/C.6/63/L.23). Under this draft resolution, the General Assembly would request the Secretary-General to submit an annual report on United Nations rule of law activities, in particular the work of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit, with special regard to the improvement of the coordination, coherence and effectiveness of rule of law activities. Under operative paragraph 10 of the draft resolution, the General Assembly would also invite Member States to focus their comments in future Sixth Committee debates on the sub-topics “Promoting the rule of law at the international level” (sixty-fourth session), “Laws and practices of Member States in implementing international law” (sixty-fifth session), and “Rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations” (sixty-sixth session), without prejudice to the consideration of the item as a whole.

This agenda item was subsequently considered at the sixty-fourth session (2009)