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Sixty-eighth session

The rule of law at the national and international levels (Agenda item 85)

Summary of work

Background (source: A/68/100)

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 from its sixty-first to its sixty-fifth sessions (resolutions 61/39, 62/70, 63/128, 64/116, 65/32 and 66/102).

At its sixty-seventh session, the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, in which the Heads of State and Government, inter alia, emphasized the importance of continuing their consideration and promotion of the rule of law in all its aspects, and to that end decided to pursue their work in the Assembly to develop further the linkages between the rule of law and the three main pillars of the United Nations, namely peace and security, human rights and development, and requested the Secretary-General to propose ways and means of developing, with wide stakeholder participation, further such linkages, and to include them in his report to the Assembly at its sixty-eighth session (resolution 67/1).

At the same session, the General Assembly recalled the high-level meeting of the Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels held during the high-level segment of its sixty-seventh session and the Declaration adopted at that meeting; reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to ensure greater coordination and coherence among United Nations entities and with donors and recipients; called upon the Secretary-General and the United Nations system to systematically address, as appropriate, aspects of the rule of law in relevant activities, including the participation of women in rule of law-related activities, recognizing the importance of the rule of law to virtually all areas of United Nations engagement; and requested the Secretary-General to submit, in a timely manner, his next annual report on United Nations rule of law activities. The Assembly invited Member States to focus their comments in the upcoming Sixth Committee debates on the subtopics “The rule of law and the peaceful settlement of international disputes” (sixty-eighth session) and “Sharing States’ national practices in strengthening the rule of law through access to justice” (sixty-ninth session) (resolution 67/97).

Consideration at the sixty-eighth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 29th meetings, on 9, 10 and 11 October and on 15 November 2013 (see A/C.6/68/SR.5-8 and 29). For its consideration of the item, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities (A/68/213).

During the 5th meeting, the Deputy Secretary-General made a statement.

Statements were made by the representatives of Iran (Islamic Republic of) (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), Cuba (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), the European Union, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), New Zealand, Switzerland, Zambia, Guatemala, Mexico, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, India, Japan, South Africa, Cuba, Malaysia, Turkey, Qatar, the United Republic of Tanzania, Maldives, Australia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Chile, the Republic of Korea, Serbia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Viet Nam, Estonia, Tunisia, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), Argentina, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Peru, Albania, China, the United States of America, Liechtenstein, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Bangladesh, Poland, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Haiti, the Kingdom of Morocco, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kuwait, Mozambique, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Georgia, Afghanistan, as well as the observer of the State of Palestine. Statements were also made by observers for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

Several delegations recalled and commended the high level meeting of the General Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels, held on 24 September 2012, and the adoption of the Declaration on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels at the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly. A view was expressed that the Declaration should have adopted a more action-oriented approach and created a follow-up mechanism. Some delegations stated that the Declaration had not met expectations as regards the rule of law and the role played by the Security Council.

In their general observations, many delegations, affirmed the indispensability of the rule of law and international law to maintain and develop peaceful coexistence and cooperation within the international community. They emphasized the connection between the rule of law and the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, as well as the role of the rule of law in underpinning the three core pillars of the United Nations, namely: international peace and security, the advancement of socioeconomic development and human rights.

In accordance with the General Assembly resolution 67/97, delegations focused their debate in this session on the sub-topic of “The rule of law and the peaceful settlement of international disputes”. Many delegations, reaffirmed their commitment to settle disputes in accordance with Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter and international law and referred in particular to the peaceful means for the settlement of disputes contemplated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements and other means for the peaceful settlement of disputes including good offices by the Secretary-General. Some delegations noted the insufficient use of the various methods for settling legal disputes by States enunciated therein. In addition, some other delegations, recalled the importance of respecting the freedom of States to choose means of peaceful settlement of international disputes. Several delegations, emphasized that States should refrain from the threat of, or use of force in the resolution of disputes. Many delegations, also reiterated the importance of international humanitarian law and the duty of all parties to a conflict to comply with its core norms and principles.

Many delegations acknowledged the important role played by international judicial institutions in upholding the rule of law, ensuring accountability and combating impunity. A number of delegations acknowledged the work of the International Court of Justice and highlighted the importance of its advisory opinions and the role of the Court in helping to restore peaceful relations between parties to disputes. Some delegations expressed the view that the General Assembly and Security Council should exercise their power to request advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice more frequently in the future in order to enhance the rule of law on the international level. Some delegations also recognized the contributions of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes. Some other delegations, emphasized the important role played by the International Criminal Court in the fight against impunity for serious international crimes, recognized the significance of efforts to strengthen domestic criminal justice systems and stressed the importance of the principle of complementarity as a linkage between international and national rule of law efforts. Other delegations, called on all States that have not done so to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and its amendments. They also referred to the campaign launched by the Secretary-General to widen the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. Some delegations, expressed concern that the international criminal justice system is operating in a selective manner and that institutions such as the ICC are focusing on targets in the developing world, namely in Africa. Some other delegations, emphasized the importance of the rule of law in building sustainable peace in countries in conflict and post-conflict situations.

A number of delegations, stressed the need to avoid the use of unilateral measures and double standards in the application of the principle. Several delegations, described regional efforts aiming at reinforcing the rule of law.

Several delegations emphasized the interdependence of international and national efforts to implement the rule of law. Some other delegations underlined the critical importance of national ownership in rule of law activities. Several delegations stressed the need to strengthen support to States in the domestic implementation of their respective international obligations through enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building. Many delegations described their national practices with regard to the implementation and exercise of the rule of law in their respective domestic legal systems.

A number of delegations stressed the need to ensure respect for the rule of law within the United Nations. Some delegations, stressed the importance of maintaining the balance between the principal organs of the Organization. Some other delegations called for a reform of the Security Council and international financial institutions.

Many delegations thanked the Secretary-General for his report on the rule of law (A/68/213), and the continuing consultation process undertaken. Several delegations expressed their appreciation for the work carried out by the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit, and other parts of the United Nations working on the rule of law, and for their efforts in contributing to the advancement of the rule of law and the coordination of United Nations rule of law activities. Some delegations welcomed the Global Focal Points system. A view was expressed highlighting a concern that there was lack of transparency and clarity over the evolving institutional structure of the United Nations work in the area of the rule of law, the functions and tasks of the entities involved, such as the new entity established between DPKO and UNDP to ensure the rule of law in crisis situations.  Several delegations emphasized that there was not one model of the rule of law applicable in all situations that could be imposed on Member States.

Some delegations highlighted the administration of justice system and commended the new Security Council sanctions regime. Other delegations commended the work of the International Law Commission and drew attention to the importance of the Programme of Assistance in helping to disseminate international law and enhance the rule of law and to its perilous financial situation.

Regarding the future work on the topic, support was expressed for further General Assembly discussion on the rule of law, particularly in the Sixth Committee. Many delegations suggested that the General Assembly should reflect on the linkages between the rule of law and the three pillars of the United Nations, especially the inter-relationship between the rule of law and sustainable development in the post-2015 international development agenda and reaffirmed the essential role of the rule of law in promoting sustainable development and inclusive economies.

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 29th meeting, on 15 November, the representative of Mexico, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” (A/C.6/68/L.22). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/68/L.22 without a vote.

Under the terms of this draft resolution, the General Assembly would, inter alia: recall the high-level meeting of the Assembly on “The rule of law at the national and international levels” during the high-level segment of its sixty-seventh session and the Declaration adopted at that meeting; welcome the dialogue initiated by the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General with Member States on the topic ‘‘Promoting the rule of law at the international level’’; reiterate the request to the Secretary-General to ensure greater coordination and coherence among United Nations entities and with donors and recipients; and call upon the Secretary-General and the United Nations system to systematically address, as appropriate, aspects of the rule of law in relevant activities, including the participation of women in rule of law-related activities, recognizing the importance of the rule of law to virtually all areas of United Nations engagement. The Assembly would further decide to include the item in the provisional agenda of its sixty-ninth session and invite Member States to focus their comments in the upcoming Sixth Committee debate on the subtopic “Sharing States’ national practices in strengthening the rule of law through access to justice”.