IV. Freedom to live in dignity
127. In the Millennium Declaration, Member States stated that they would spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. In so doing, they recognized that while freedom from want and fear are essential they are not enough. All human beings have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
128. The protection and promotion of the universal values of the rule of law, human rights and democracy are ends in themselves. They are also essential for a world of justice, opportunity and stability. No security agenda and no drive for development will be successful unless they are based on the sure foundation of respect for human dignity.
129. When it comes to laws on the books, no generation has inherited the riches that we have. We are blessed with what amounts to an international bill of human rights, among which are impressive norms to protect the weakest among us, including victims of conflict and persecution. We also enjoy a set of international rules on everything from trade to the law of the sea, from terrorism to the environment and from small arms to weapons of mass destruction. Through hard experience, we have become more conscious of the need to build human rights and rule-of-law provisions into peace agreements and ensure that they are implemented. And even harder experience has led us to grapple with the fact that no legal principle — not even sovereignty — should ever be allowed to shield genocide, crimes against humanity and mass human suffering.
130. But without implementation, our declarations ring hollow. Without action, our promises are meaningless. Villagers huddling in fear at the sound of Government bombing raids or the appearance of murderous militias on the horizon find no solace in the unimplemented words of the Geneva Conventions, to say nothing of the international community's solemn promises of “never again” when reflecting on the horrors of Rwanda a decade ago. Treaties prohibiting torture are cold comfort to prisoners abused by their captors, particularly if the international human rights machinery enables those responsible to hide behind friends in high places. A war-weary population infused with new hope after the signing of a peace agreement quickly reverts to despair when, instead of seeing tangible progress towards a Government under the rule of law, it sees war lords and gang leaders take power and become laws unto themselves. And solemn commitments to strengthen democracy at home, which all States made in the Millennium Declaration, remain empty words to those who have never voted for their rulers and who see no sign that things are changing.
131. To advance a vision of larger freedom, the United Nations and its Member States must strengthen the normative framework that has been so impressively advanced over the last six decades. Even more important, we must take concrete steps to reduce selective application, arbitrary enforcement and breach without consequence. Those steps would give new life to the commitments made in the Millennium Declaration.
132. Accordingly, I believe that decisions should be made in 2005 to help strengthen the rule of law internationally and nationally, enhance the stature and structure of the human rights machinery of the United Nations and more directly support efforts to institute and deepen democracy in nations around the globe. We must also move towards embracing and acting on the “responsibility to protect” potential or actual victims of massive atrocities. The time has come for Governments to be held to account, both to their citizens and to each other, for respect of the dignity of the individual, to which they too often pay only lip service. We must move from an era of legislation to an era of implementation. Our declared principles and our common interests demand no less.
A. Rule of law
133. I strongly believe that every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad and that every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home. Indeed, the Millennium Declaration reaffirmed the commitment of all nations to the rule of law as the all-important framework for advancing human security and prosperity. Yet in many places, Governments and individuals continue to violate the rule of law, often without consequences for them but with deadly consequences for the weak and the vulnerable. In other instances, those who make no pretence of being bound by the rule of law, such as armed groups and terrorists, are able to flout it because our peacemaking institutions and compliance mechanisms are weak. The rule of law as a mere concept is not enough. New laws must be put into place, old ones must be put into practice and our institutions must be better equipped to strengthen the rule of law.
134. Nowhere is the gap between rhetoric and reality — between declarations and deeds — so stark and so deadly as in the field of international humanitarian law. It cannot be right, when the international community is faced with genocide or massive human rights abuses, for the United Nations to stand by and let them unfold to the end, with disastrous consequences for many thousands of innocent people. I have drawn Member States' attention to this issue over many years. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, I presented a five-point action plan to prevent genocide. The plan underscored the need for action to prevent armed conflict, effective measures to protect civilians, judicial steps to fight impunity, early warning through a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and swift and decisive action when genocide is happening or about to happen. Much more, however, needs to be done to prevent atrocities and to ensure that the international community acts promptly when faced with massive violations.
135. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and more recently the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, with its 16 members from all around the world, endorsed what they described as an “emerging norm that there is a collective responsibility to protect” (see A/59/565, para. 203). While I am well aware of the sensitivities involved in this issue, I strongly agree with this approach. I believe that we must embrace the responsibility to protect, and, when necessary, we must act on it. This responsibility lies, first and foremost, with each individual State, whose primary raison d'être and duty is to protect its population. But if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, then the responsibility shifts to the international community to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods to help protect the human rights and well-being of civilian populations. When such methods appear insufficient, the Security Council may out of necessity decide to take action under the Charter of the United Nations, including enforcement action, if so required. In this case, as in others, it should follow the principles set out in section III above.
136. Support for the rule of law must be strengthened by universal participation in multilateral conventions. At present, many States remain outside the multilateral conventional framework, in some cases preventing important conventions from entering into force. Five years ago, I provided special facilities for States to sign or ratify treaties of which I am the Depositary. This proved a major success and treaty events have been held annually ever since. This year's event will focus on 31 multilateral treaties to help us respond to global challenges, with emphasis on human rights, refugees, terrorism, organized crime and the law of the sea. I urge leaders especially to ratify and implement all treaties relating to the protection of civilians.
137. Effective national legal and judicial institutions are essential to the success of all our efforts to help societies emerge from a violent past. Yet the United Nations, other international organizations and member Governments remain ill-equipped to provide support for such institutions. As I outlined in my report on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies (S/2004/616), we lack appropriate assessment and planning capacities, both in the field and at Headquarters. As a result, assistance is often piecemeal, slow and ill-suited to the ultimate goal. To help the United Nations realize its potential in this area, I intend to create a dedicated Rule of Law Assistance Unit, drawing heavily on existing staff within the United Nations system, in the proposed Peacebuilding Support Office (see sect. V below) to assist national efforts to re-establish the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict societies.
138. Justice is a vital component of the rule of law. Enormous progress has been made with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the continuing work of the two ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the creation of a mixed tribunal in Sierra Leone and hopefully soon in Cambodia as well. Other important initiatives include commissions of experts and inquiry, such as those set up for Darfur, Timor-Leste and Côte d'Ivoire. Yet impunity continues to overshadow advances made in international humanitarian law, with tragic consequences in the form of flagrant and widespread human rights abuses continuing to this day. To increase avenues of redress for the victims of atrocities and deter further horrors, I encourage Member States to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court and other international or mixed war crimes tribunals, and to surrender accused persons to them upon request.
139. The International Court of Justice lies at the centre of the international system for adjudicating disputes among States. In recent years, the Court's docket has grown significantly and a number of disputes have been settled, but resources remain scarce. There is a need to consider means to strengthen the work of the Court. I urge those States that have not yet done so to consider recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court — generally if possible or, failing that, at least in specific situations. I also urge all parties to bear in mind, and make greater use of, the Court's advisory powers. Measures should also be taken, with the cooperation of litigating States, to improve the Court's working methods and reduce the length of its proceedings.
B. Human rights
140. Human rights are as fundamental to the poor as to the rich, and their protection is as important to the security and prosperity of the developed world as it is to that of the developing world. It would be a mistake to treat human rights as though there were a trade-off to be made between human rights and such goals as security or development. We only weaken our hand in fighting the horrors of extreme poverty or terrorism if, in our efforts to do so, we deny the very human rights that these scourges take away from citizens. Strategies based on the protection of human rights are vital for both our moral standing and the practical effectiveness of our actions.
141. Since its establishment, the United Nations has committed itself to striving for a world of peace and justice grounded in universal respect for human rights — a mission reaffirmed five years ago by the Millennium Declaration. But the system for protecting human rights at the international level is today under considerable strain. Change is needed if the United Nations is to sustain long-term, high-level engagement on human rights issues, across the range of the Organization's work.
142. Important change is already under way. Since the Millennium Declaration, the United Nations human rights machinery has expanded its protection work, technical assistance and support for national human rights institutions, so that international human rights standards are now better implemented in many countries. Last year, I launched “Action 2”, a global programme designed to equip United Nations inter-agency country teams to work with Member States, at their request, to bolster their national human rights promotion and protection systems. This programme urgently needs more resources and staff, including a stronger capacity to train country teams within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
143. But technical assistance and long-term institution-building are of little or no value where the basic principle of protection is being actively violated. A greater human rights field presence during times of crisis would provide timely information to United Nations bodies and, when necessary, draw urgent attention to situations requiring action.
144. The increasing frequency of the Security Council's invitations to the High Commissioner to brief it on specific situations shows that there is now a greater awareness of the need to take human rights into account in resolutions on peace and security. The High Commissioner must play a more active role in the deliberations of the Security Council and of the proposed Peacebuilding Commission, with emphasis on the implementation of relevant provisions in Security Council resolutions. Indeed, human rights must be incorporated into decision-making and discussion throughout the work of the Organization. The concept of “mainstreaming” human rights has gained greater attention in recent years, but it has still not been adequately reflected in key policy and resource decisions.
145. These observations all point to the need to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. While the role of the High Commissioner has expanded in the areas of crisis response, national human rights capacity-building, support for the Millennium Development Goals and conflict prevention, her Office remains woefully ill-equipped to respond to the broad range of human rights challenges facing the international community. Member States' proclaimed commitment to human rights must be matched by resources to strengthen the Office's ability to discharge its vital mandate. I have asked the High Commissioner to submit a plan of action within 60 days.
146. The High Commissioner and her Office need to be involved in the whole spectrum of United Nations activities. But this can only work if the intergovernmental foundations of our human rights machinery are strong. In section V below, therefore, I shall make a proposal to transform the body which should be the central pillar of the United Nations human rights system — the Commission on Human Rights.
147. But the human rights treaty bodies, too, need to be much more effective and more responsive to violations of the rights that they are mandated to uphold. The treaty body system remains little known; is compromised by the failure of many States to report on time if at all, as well as the duplication of reporting requirements; and is weakened further by poor implementation of recommendations. Harmonized guidelines on reporting to all treaty bodies should be finalized and implemented so that these bodies can function as a unified system.
148. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, enunciated the essentials of democracy. Ever since its adoption, it has inspired constitution-making in every corner of the world, and it has contributed greatly to the eventual global acceptance of democracy as a universal value. The right to choose how they are ruled, and who rules them, must be the birthright of all people, and its universal achievement must be a central objective of an Organization devoted to the cause of larger freedom.
149. In the Millennium Declaration, every Member State pledged to strengthen its capacity to implement the principles and practices of democracy. That same year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on promoting and consolidating democracy. More than 100 countries have now signed the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies (see A/55/328, annex I), and in 2002 that Community endorsed the Seoul Plan of Action (see A/57/618, annex I), which listed the essential elements of representative democracy and set forth a range of measures to promote it. Regional organizations in many parts of the world have made democracy promotion a core component of their work, and the emergence of a strong community of global and regional civil society organizations that promote democratic governance is also encouraging. All of which reinforces the principle that democracy does not belong to any country or region but is a universal right.
150. However, commitments must be matched by performance and protecting democracy requires vigilance. Threats to democracy have by no means ceased to exist. As we have seen time and again, the transition to democracy is delicate and difficult and can suffer severe setbacks. The United Nations assists Member States by supporting emerging democracies with legal, technical and financial assistance and advice. For example, the United Nations has given concrete support for elections in more and more countries, often at decisive moments in their history — more than 20 in the last year alone, including Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Burundi. Similarly, the Organization's work to improve governance throughout the developing world and to rebuild the rule of law and State institutions in war-torn countries is vital to ensuring that democracy takes root and endures.
151. The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world, but this fact is little known. The impact of our work is reduced by the way we disperse it among different parts of our bureaucracy. It is time to join up the dots. But there are significant gaps in our capacity in several critical areas. The Organization as a whole needs to be better coordinated and should mobilize resources more effectively. The United Nations should not restrict its role to norm-setting but should expand its help to its members to further broaden and deepen democratic trends throughout the world. To that end, I support the creation of a democracy fund at the United Nations to provide assistance to countries seeking to establish or strengthen their democracy. Furthermore, I intend to ensure that our activities in this area are more closely coordinated by establishing a more explicit link between the democratic governance work of the United Nations Development Programme and the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs.
152. In sections II to IV, I have outlined the interconnected challenges of advancing the cause of larger freedom in the new century. I have also indicated what I believe to be the essential elements of our collective response, including many areas where I believe the United Nations should be better equipped to make its proper contribution. In section V below, I shall focus in some detail on the specific reforms that I believe are needed if our Organization is to play its due part in shaping and implementing such a collective response across the whole range of global issues.
19. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III). [Back to text]
20. General Assembly resolution 55/96. [Back to text]