Rule of Law Drives Promotion, Protection of Human Rights, Deputy Secretary-General

27 February 2014

Rule of Law Drives Promotion, Protection of Human Rights, Deputy Secretary-General

27 February 2014
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Rule of Law Drives Promotion, Protection of Human Rights, Deputy Secretary-General

Tells Panel Discussion at Headquarters


Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s keynote address, as prepared for delivery, at a panel discussion on “The rule of law, peace and security, human rights and development”, held at Headquarters today as a follow-up to the Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels:

I thank the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Denmark for their opening remarks and for their outstanding support to the rule of law.

At the General Assembly’s first-ever High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law in September 2012, all 193 Member States united to reaffirm their commitment to the rule of law.  The High-level Declaration was a significant affirmation of a concept at the very heart of the work of the Organization.  The Declaration provides Member States with a wide range of elements and tools of the rule of law, highlighting its depth and its breadth.  The Declaration covers several aspects of the rule of law such as constitutions, trade law, organized crime, international humanitarian law and the rights of women and children.  The High-level Declaration stressed the importance of the rule of law for the three main pillars of the United Nations:  peace and security, development and human rights.

Our discussion this afternoon focuses on how to develop the linkages between the rule of law and these three pillars.  We will explore themes emerging from the input the Secretary-General received from our preparations for the report to the General Assembly pursuant to paragraph 41 of the Declaration.  Contributions emanated from Member States, the United Nations family, the legal community, civil society and academia.

The rule of law, based on human rights, underpins peace and security.  At the international level, the Charter provides the basis for friendly relations between States as sovereign equals.  At the national level, justice and the rule of law can prevent and mitigate violence and conflict by providing peaceful channels for the resolution of grievances.

Justice and the rule of law are also fundamental for development.  The rule of law promotes inclusive economic growth and builds accountable institutions that underpin sustainable development.  The rule of law helps make basic services — such as education, health and sanitation — available for all.  The rule of law empowers citizens to address underlying causes of inequality and exclusion.  That is why the High-level Declaration calls for consideration of the rule of law in the post-2015 international development agenda.

The rule of law and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:  “If man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression […] human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

Rights are empty words in the absence of a legal and political order in which they can be realized.  The rule of law is the vehicle for the promotion and protection of all human rights.  Across these three pillars — peace and security, development and human rights — consultations have underscored the importance of full implementation and compliance with the internationally agreed legal framework.

At the centre of the international system is the importance of compliance with the Charter of the United Nations and its purposes and principles.  At the national level, Governments are to translate their international obligations into national legal frameworks, from constitutions to the regulation of business activity.  Just and fair legal frameworks should govern all areas of society in order to foster peace, development and human rights.  These frameworks must be fully and impartially applied and enforced.

Without implementation, our declarations ring hollow.  Without even-handed application, the benefits of the rule of law to the three pillars will not be realized.

As the Declaration on the Rule of Law states:  “all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to just, fair and equitable laws and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”.  Improved security of land tenure, for example, particularly for women and marginalized communities, improves social and economic well-being, supporting both development and peace and security.

The Secretary-General’s consultations also emphasized the importance of accountable and accessible institutions, which apply these legal frameworks fairly and impartially.  At the international level, institutions for international dispute resolution are an important tool for Member States to peacefully resolve disputes.  Such institutions must be equally accessible to all States.  The International Court of Justice is, of course, a central body.  As you recall, the Secretary-General launched a campaign in 2012 to encourage Member States to accept the Court’s jurisdiction.

At the national level, institutions help ensure that guarantees included in the law are realized.  Without access to effective justice institutions, people can be deprived of their rights and be intimidated by threats or violence.  Justice and police institutions that serve the citizens and society are essential to both peace and security, and development.

Furthermore, transparency and accountability are powerful tools for oversight of the use of public resources, including to prevent corruption.  Corruption distorts markets and hinders sustainable development.

Institutions must also be accessible.  Providing people with legal identity assists people in accessing institutions and enjoying their rights.  Without legal identity, individuals are vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation.  Despite its importance, the births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five around the world have never been registered.

The consultations also noted the problems arising for Member States from transnational threats.  Organized crime, for example, in areas such as the drug-trafficking trade, and trafficking in persons and in firearms threatens peace and security, violates human rights and undermines the economic and social development of societies around the world.

In closing let me state:  in order to meet our challenges in bringing peace and security to places of conflict and crisis, and in building sustainable development for all, it is essential to strengthen human rights and the rule of law.  Contributions received by the Secretary-General have highlighted that full implementation and compliance of internationally agreed norms through fair institutions are key to our work in the three pillars.  This is important at both the national and international levels.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion today on these and related issues.  Let me now welcome our expert panellists:  Louise Arbour, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Crisis Group and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Muna Ndulo, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Director of Cornell University’s Institute for African Development; and Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization.

Thank you all for taking the time to be here.  We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts and then to have an exchange of views.  I am sure that today’s discussion will give us much food for thought for the preparation of the report of the Secretary-General to Member States.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.