Rule of Law


DESA’s work in the area of Rule of Law

DESA is mandated with supporting deliberations in two major UN charter bodies: the UN General Assembly and UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as ECOSOC’s subsidiary bodies. In this regard, DESA’s main activities focus on promoting progress toward development priorities. Furthermore, DESA is responsible for ensuring civil society engagement with the UN by way of the ECOSOC body. In addition, DESA organises and supports consultations with a range of stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society. Upon request, DESA also advises and assists governments in implementing the policies and programmes developed at UN conferences.


Sustainable Development

Goal 16 of the proposal of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals contains target 16.3 relating to rule of law, namely, “promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.” DESA, together with UNDP, Co-Chairs the Technical Support Team (TST), the inter-agency body that provided technical support to the Open Working Group and continues to support the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. The TST provided advice on all goals and targets, including goal 16.

Through the ECOSOC National Voluntary Presentations (NVPs), DESA has over 10 years of experience in supporting Member States to assess the wider enabling environment for sustainable development in their respective countries. Rule of law and strong and accountable institutions have been shown to be critical elements to effectively implementing States’ national development strategies. NVP countries’ experiences hold critical lessons for the post-2015 development agenda, in particular regarding the need for improved development cooperation to build institutional capacities and promote the rule of law in order to build inclusive, peaceful societies.

Well defined indicators, supported by appropriate universally accepted methodologies, to measure goals and targets related to the ‘rule of law’ are not yet widely available. However, the Statistical Commission, given its mandate to elaborate a comprehensive indicator set in support of the post-2016 development agenda is working with appropriate expert partners towards the identification and elaboration of indicators for goal 16. In this context the work of the recently launched Praia City Group on governance statistics will be helpful.


Public Administration

In light of the call by the General Assembly in its Resolution 65/1 to further promote progress towards the MDGs, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution E/RES/2012/28, DESA has been collecting and analyzing information on public administration policy, regulatory and organizational frameworks, organized around four thematic areas. They include: (a) government institutional and human resource development; (b) electronic and mobile government; (c) citizen engagement in managing development; and (d) open government data and services. For instance, in the area of citizen engagement in managing development, since 2011, DESA has been collecting and analyzing relevant provisions from the 193 Member States, relevant constitutional provisions for citizen engagement, freedom of information legislation, data protection legislation, legal and administrative instruments creating and implementing economic and social councils and similar institutions, participatory budgeting laws, decentralization laws, and legal and administrative instruments for open government initiatives.


Social Policy

DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development serves to support and monitor the implementation of a wide range of binding and non-binding agreements that promote the creation of an enabling legal and policy environment for social inclusion and the empowerment of people. This strong mix of mandates includes the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, the World Programme of Action on Youth, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

DESA serves host to a mix of focal points and secretariats that together advocate for the full inclusion and participation of vulnerable groups in society and for the realization of non-discrimination, social justice and dignity for all. These include the focal points within the UN system on development issues related to youth, older persons, the family, and persons with disabilities, as well as the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Through its support to intergovernmental processes on social development, DESA promotes the application and respect for the rule of law related to the rights and development needs of the groups under its mandates, and as enshrined at the international level in the various rights-based development instruments which it monitors. DESA also provides related advisory services and capacity development to Member States, working collaboratively with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, civil society and other stakeholders. These operational activities include the development of appropriate toolkits geared at guiding the assimilation of international norms into national legal and policy frameworks, such as the recently developed “Toolkit on Disability for Africa.” This toolkit serves as a capacity development tool and guide for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including a focus on access to justice for persons with disabilities, and the role of police, judges and court systems in ensuring full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

DESA’s Population Division also monitors the global situation and trends with respect to early marriage. Marriages that take place before the age of maturity, including child marriages, are against the law in a large majority of countries. Such marriages violate the human rights of children and adolescents, have detrimental effects on their reproductive health and curtail their socioeconomic development. In countries like Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Mali, Mozambique and Nepal, where the minimum legal age at marriage without parental consent is 18 years or older, the most recent available survey data indicate that more than half of women aged 20-24 had married before the age of 18 years.


Financing for Development

DESA’s Financing for Development Office (FfDO) provides secretariat support to the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (the Committee of Experts), which is the subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council tasked with work on international tax matters. Its core mandate is to keep under review and update the United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries (the UN Model Convention) and the Manual for the Negotiation of Bilateral Tax Treaties between Developed and Developing Countries (the Manual on Negotiation). These documents are largely used by developing countries in the negotiation of their bilateral tax treaties, which play a critical role in promoting an enabling investment climate and providing legal and fiscal certainty that are essential for investment flows between countries, the exchange of goods and services, the movement of capital and persons, as well as the transfer of technology.

The Committee of Experts is also mandated to develop commentaries and appropriate recommendations on issues which could affect international tax cooperation. In this context, the Committee developed the United Nations Practical Manual on Transfer Pricing for Developing Countries (the UN Transfer Pricing Manual), which seeks to assist these countries in applying the internationally recognized standard embodied in Article 9 of the UN Model Convention (so called arm’s length principle) to fairly allocate profits between associated companies belonging to multinational enterprises (MNEs). In doing so, the UN Transfer Pricing Manual aims at minimizing potential disputes among countries about allocation of profits of MNEs, while combating potential abuses which may result in shifting profits from high- to low-tax jurisdictions.

DESA is implementing a capacity development programme on international tax cooperation aimed at supporting developing countries to develop more effective and efficient tax systems. This programme draws, to a large extent, on the UN Model Convention and the UN Transfer Pricing Manual, with a view to disseminating and operationalizing them for the benefit of these countries. In particular, it aims at strengthening their capacity to negotiate and apply bilateral tax treaties based on the UN Model Convention and to apply the arm’s length principle to the allocation of profits of MNEs drawing on the UN Transfer Pricing Manual.