December 2012, No. 4 Vol. XLIX, Delivering Justice 


The rule of law is the bedrock upon which the United Nations is built. On the international stage, it is fundamental to peace and stability. All States in the General Assembly have an obligation to abide by the Charter of the United Nations and the wider body of international law. All Member States are expected to be subject to these laws, to apply them in their international relations, and to be equal before them. Working to ensure this basic principle is the essence of our work to promote the rule of law at the international level.

The United Nations also promotes the rule of law within Member States by fostering the development of norms, social practices and institutions that ensure the independence of core governance institutions. This strengthens the decision-making processes to which political leaders are subject, by curbing the arbitrary exercise of political power. This is especially important in post-conflict situations in order to solidify and build on political settlements.

It is also important to consider how the rule of law reaches far beyond laws and courts. By promoting a government of law, equally applicable to all without discrimination, the rule of law makes political and economic opportunities available to all members of society. It empowers people by providing a right of access to public services, making State entities accountable for the delivery of such services. The rule of law also strengthens mechanisms that enforce and protect universal human rights. As such, strengthening the rule of law creates both opportunity and equity, and ultimately helps create better conditions for the broader responsibilities of States and the United Nations.


Highlighting the fundamental importance of the rule of law, on 24 September 2012, the General Assembly concluded its first High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law by adopting a very important Declaration. For the first time, Member States agreed that "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".

The Declaration covered the breadth of the rule of law, including the importance of judicial systems to informal justice systems, transitional justice, transnational organized crime and terrorism, corruption and international trade. The Declaration reaffirmed that the rule of law is indispensable for upholding peace and security, as well as sustainable development and respect for human rights.


In focusing on these linkages, the Declaration builds upon the fundamental formula of the September 2005 United Nations World Summit. There is no peace without development; there is no development without peace; and there is no lasting peace and sustainable development without respect for human rights. Our challenge now is to implement the Declaration, and to translate its aspirations into concrete action. In order to do so, we need to break down the walls between our activities in these three pillars and adopt a holistic and integrated approach. The rule of law helps us cut across all three pillars of our work in facing and solving problems.

The 2011 World Development Report by the World Bank advanced this idea by offering concrete evidence that these three interlinked issues are central in breaking cycles of fragility in areas such as security, justice and jobs. Each can be strengthened through the rule of law.

We see this need for an integrated approach in conflict-torn areas where transitional justice, anchored in broad consultations, stabilizes security. By prosecuting perpetrators, we begin the process of healing. By facilitating truth and reconciliation, we allow communities to reunite. By fostering reparations and restitution, we plant the seeds for economic growth and empowerment. Such an integrated approach challenges the United Nations and national authorities to pull together different disciplines, i.e., prosecutors and lawyers, social workers, human rights professionals and development experts, all under the banner of the rule of law.


Mainstreaming the rule of law is, therefore, a key task for all of us. To draw inspiration, we should learn from our ongoing efforts to mainstream other critical issues.
The United Nations has been actively mainstreaming human rights in its activities. This approach involves always identifying where rights and obligations are held so that they can be both respected and reinforced through our activities and programming. Similarly, the United Nations has been actively mainstreaming gender equality since 1997. This involves encouraging all entities within the United Nations system to adopt gender perspectives and to focus attention on the goal of gender equality in their activities and programming.

We now need to develop a similar approach for the rule of law. Key questions need to be asked by all of our entities in their ongoing work. Which rules are relevant and which are being applied? What mechanisms of rule of law are there to resolve disputes among stakeholders? Are they accessible to all? Such an approach could bring into focus rule of law-related issues within all of the work that we do.


By mainstreaming the rule of law, we will also improve the ways in which we support Member States in strengthening the rule of law. The United Nations provides rule of law assistance to over 150 Member States. These activities take place in several contexts, including development, conflict, post-conflict and peacebuilding situations. Three or more United Nations entities engage in rule of law activities in at least 70 countries, and 5 or more entities in over 25 countries. Seventeen peace operations have rule of law mandates.

We provide Member States with a wide range of rule of law assistance -- from building the capacity of rule of law-related institutions, such as courts, prisons and police, as well as parliaments and ombudspersons, to working with civil society in empowering people through access to justice. The scope of this work gives the United Nations a strong comparative advantage in supporting Member States with holistic and sector-wide rule of law assistance.

The United Nations has also developed a large body of universally agreed norms and standards. The United Nations is already working successfully with Member States in a number of areas, for instance, in anti-corruption and through the various human rights treaty bodies, but much remains to be done. Since the United Nations is the forum and custodian for the development of these international norms, it has a strong comparative advantage in assisting Member States in implementing them.

Finally, as an organization representing the international community as a whole, the United Nations is ideally in a position to support national initiatives to strengthen the rule of law allaying suspicions that external interests may taint the advice and support given in this sensitive governance area. This is another strong reason the United Nations should play a leading role in rule of law assistance efforts.


While the United Nations is ideally in a position to provide rule of law assistance, the large number of entities within the United Nations family poses a challenge when it comes to coordination. This has been the cause of some concern among development partners, and has been the reason they have often not used the Organization as the main channel to support Member States in their rule of law efforts.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently reviewed the issue and, after extensive internal consultations, has set a new direction for our collective efforts. In September 2012, following a discussion in the Policy Committee, he decided to enhance the power of United Nations field leadership to work closely with national counterparts in developing strategies to strengthen the rule of law. As such, they will now be responsible and accountable for guiding and overseeing United Nations rule of law strategies in-country, for resolving political obstacles and for coordinating United Nations country support on rule of law. At the same time, operational implementation is left in the hands of the different United Nations entities working in-country.

In order to support field leadership in carrying out these new responsibilities, the Policy Committee designated the Department for Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Development Programme as the joint Global Focal Point for the police, justice and corrections areas in post-conflict and other crisis situations. In this capacity, they will provide integrated and coordinated headquarters responses to requests for support from the field, built on lessons learned and best practices.

Finally, the Policy Committee enhanced the role of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, which I chair, to act as the strategic body for the Organization on all issues related to the rule of law, by ensuring that the United Nations is able to foresee and address new opportunities and to develop linkages with a broad range of stakeholders.

With these institutional arrangements in place, the Organization is now in a position to address the challenge of enhanced coordination.

Yet, this task is not limited to the United Nations. Bilateral donors account for the vast majority of rule of law assistance provided to Member States. There is also a pressing need for them to coordinate their assistance. One way of doing this would be for development partners to route more of their rule of law assistance through the United Nations system. Given the strong comparative advantages of the United Nations in this area, and the recent internal reforms to enhance coordination and coherence, I am confident that more funds for this crucial area of assistance will be forthcoming as we demonstrate the usefulness of our work.


The rule of law has an important bearing upon economic development, labour, the delivery of public services, and land, property and inheritance rights, which are all central to sustainable development. In recognition of this linkage, paragraph 7 of the Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly requests that the rule of law be considered in the post-2015 international development agenda.

The challenge for the United Nations, therefore, will be to present to Member States a post-2015 development agenda that includes the rule of law and a set of related indicators. This will be a complex undertaking. The new agenda will need to retain the simplicity and acceptability of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Yet, the rule of law, as a multilayered principle of governance, does not necessarily lend itself well to such measures.

Nevertheless, there are concrete ideas that the United Nations system and Member States can develop and jointly push forward. For instance, targets related to birth registration, given that the exercise of rights and citizenship intrinsic to the rule of law stems from this official act. Another example for consideration might be whether or not homicide rates are a credible indicator for security, and what kind of data would reflect access to justice.

Of course, our planning around the post-2015 development agenda should not distract us from the important work left to do in achieving the MDGs by 2015. Our rule of law programmes will continue to contribute to that collective effort.


This is an exciting time to shape a bold yet practical agenda that will help the people we serve. We must give the rule of law the central role that it deserves. We must develop new approaches to mainstream the rule of law into our everyday work. We must support Member States in strengthening the rule of law with coherent assistance, and ensure that the rule of law finds its place for peace and security, for the future international development agenda, and for the work for respect of human rights.