Sixth Committee (Legal) — 64th session

The rule of law at the national and international levels (agenda item 83)

Summary of work

Background (source: A/64/100)

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).

The Assembly considered the item at its sixty-first and sixty-second sessions (resolutions 61/39 and 62/70).

At its sixty-third session, the General Assembly requested 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 in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, with special regard to the improvement of the coordination, coherence and effectiveness of rule of law activities; invited the International Court of Justice, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law and the International Law Commission to continue to comment, in their respective reports to the General Assembly, on their current roles in promoting the rule of law; invited the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit to interact with Member States, in particular in informal briefings; and invited Member States to focus their comments in the Sixth Committee debate at the sixty-fourth session on the sub-topic “Promoting the rule of law at the international level” (resolution 63/128).

Consideration at the sixty-fourth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 8th, 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th meetings, on 14 and 15 October and on 4 and 12 November 2009.

During the 8th meeting, the Deputy Secretary-General made a statement. Statements were made by the representatives of: Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand); Viet Nam (on behalf of ASEAN); Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group); Tunisia (on behalf of the African Group); Sweden (on behalf of the European Union; the Candidate Country the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia aligned themselves with the statement); Iran (Islamic Republic of) (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement); Liechtenstein; Switzerland; Cuba; Belarus; Brazil; Norway; Costa Rica; China; Mozambique; Lesotho; Malaysia; South Africa; Zambia; Serbia; Kazakhstan; Myanmar; and the Syrian Arab Republic; Senegal; the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Mexico; Nigeria; Chile; India; the United States of America; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Botswana; Azerbaijan; Bangladesh; El Salvador; Kuwait; the United Republic of Tanzania; Ghana; Trinidad and Tobago; Japan; Ethiopia; the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; the United Arab Emirates; the Republic of Korea; Iran (Islamic Republic of); Pakistan; Kenya; Albania; the Russian Federation; and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of); Colombia; Guatemala; the Sudan; Ethiopia; Afghanistan; and Algeria. Statements were also made by the observers of the Holy See and the International Development Law Organization.  Serbia and Albania exercised their right of reply.

In their general observations, delegations emphasized that the rule of law at the national and international levels was an essential condition for peaceful cooperation and coexistence among States, and critical to effectively address global challenges on the basis of the purposes and principles of the Charter and international law. Some delegations stated that a strong international system based on the rule of law was the main guarantor for the protection of the rights of the less powerful. It was pointed out that, in addition to ensuring compliance with international obligations, the concept of the rule of law implied a law-creating process that would involve all States, thereby strengthening the fairness and legitimacy of international law.

Delegations generally expressed their appreciation for the report of the Secretary-General (A/64/298). The view was expressed that more information would have been welcome on the number and scope of training provided, as well as on how the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit had promoted the rule of law within the UN system. The hope was expressed that future reports of the Secretary-General would include an evaluation of the effectiveness of UN rule of law activities. Some delegations believed that, in future reports, the Secretary-General should focus on the specific sub-topics to be discussed by the Committee, as well as address ways to further develop coherent and strategic approaches to promote the rule of law at the international level.

With regard to the subtopic “The rule of law at the international level”, there was general agreement that the rule of law was based on a number of core principles. Reference was made in particular to the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. Some delegations also mentioned the general obligation to honour international obligations in good faith, the obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force, the obligation to settle disputes by peaceful means, the obligation to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and abide by international humanitarian law. Some delegations further stated that the principle of sovereign equality of States was an important element in the promotion of the rule of law at the international level; the selective enforcement of international law was mentioned as an example of the failure to respect that basic principle. Several delegations emphasized the important role played by the International Court of Justice and other international tribunals in the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Some delegations supported wider recourse to the Court; some other delegations further encouraged States to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court.  It was noted that international criminal tribunals, by prosecuting international crimes, also contributed to the strengthening of the international rule of law.

With regard to the role of the UN in strengthening the rule of law at the international level, some delegations placed emphasis on the role played by the International Law Commission in the codification and progressive development of international law. Some delegations welcomed the contribution of the UN Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law and the role of the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law in the education and dissemination of international law was emphasized.  Several delegations welcomed the technical assistance and capacity-building provided by the United Nations; it was pointed out that the Organization should ensure that capacity-building better responded to the needs of States, particularly developing countries.

Delegations commended the work carried out by the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit, and welcomed the Joint Strategic Plan for 2009-2011 which strengthened the coherence, quality and coordination of rule of law policy within the UN system. Some delegations stressed that the Unit should be provided with the necessary financial and human resources to carry out its tasks. The view was expressed that the Group should provide assistance in the collection of information in post-conflict situations for the prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes.

Many delegations stressed the intrinsic relationship between the rule of law at the international and national levels. According to some delegations, the international rule of law could only be meaningful if it was translated into national rule of law based on democratic principles and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was pointed out that the UN should enhance national capacities for domestic implementation of international obligations. Some delegations stressed, however, that the UN should provide technical assistance only to States that have requested it.

Some delegations highlighted the importance of strengthening the rule of law within the UN. Some delegations welcomed the implementation of the new system of administration of justice at the UN and the initiatives aimed at holding UN personnel and experts on mission criminally accountable for misconduct. While recognizing the efforts of the Security Council to improve the fairness of sanctions procedures, some delegations stressed the need for further progress in this regard. Concern was expressed at the risk of encroachment by the Security Council of the functions proper to other principal UN organs, in particular the General Assembly. Some delegations put emphasis on the importance of UN reform.
Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 24th meeting, on 4 November 2009, the representative of Liechtenstein, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” (A/C.6/64/L.14). At 25th meeting, on 12 November 2009, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/64/L.14 without a vote. Under this draft resolution, the General Assembly would take note of the annual report of the Secretary-General on strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities, and request him to submit his second annual report. The Assembly would also invite Member States to focus their comments in the upcoming Sixth Committee debate on the sub-topic “Laws and practices of Member States in implementing international law”, without prejudice to the consideration of the item as a whole, and invite the Secretary-General to provide information on this sub-topic in his report, after seeking the views of Member States.

This agenda item was subsequently considered at the sixty-fifth session (2010)

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