Sixth Committee (Legal) — 70th session

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

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/70/100)

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-eighth sessions (resolutions 61/39, 62/70, 63/128, 64/116, 65/32, 66/102, 67/1, 67/97 and 68/116).

At its sixty-ninth 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. The Assembly reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to ensure greater coordination and coherence among United Nations entities and with donors and recipients and called for dialogue to be enhanced among all stakeholders with a view to placing national perspectives at the centre of rule of law assistance in order to strengthen national ownership. It 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. It recalled the commitment of Member States to take all necessary steps to provide fair, transparent, effective, non-discriminatory and accountable services that promote access to justice for all, including legal aid, encouraged further dialogue and the sharing of national practices in strengthening the rule of law through access to justice and stressed the importance of promoting the sharing of national practices and of inclusive dialogue. The Assembly invited the Secretary-General to propose ways for Member States to voluntarily exchange best national practices on the rule of law and requested him 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 debate on the subtopic “The role of multilateral treaty processes in promoting and advancing the rule of law” (resolution 69/123).

Consideration at the seventieth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 29th meetings, on 14, 15 and 16 October and on 20 November 2015 (A/C.6/70/SR.5, 6, 7, 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/70/206).

At the 5th meeting, on 14 October 2015, the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs introduced the report of the Secretary-General and made a statement on the sub-topic of “The role of multilateral treaty processes in promoting and advancing the rule of law”. The Chief of the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs also made a statement on the sub-topic.

Statements were made by the representatives of Iran (Islamic Republic of) (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Ecuador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union, also on behalf of its Member States (the candidate countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia aligned themselves with the statement), Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)), Liechtenstein, Peru, Singapore, Bangladesh, Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar, Sudan, Guatemala, Slovenia, Libya, Austria, Senegal, United States of America, Nicaragua, Estonia, Eritrea, Switzerland, Qatar, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Iraq, Paraguay, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Morocco, Israel, Maldives, Indonesia, Algeria, Mozambique, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Argentina, Turkey, Lebanon, Armenia, Poland, India, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, China, El Salvador, Japan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Barbados, Botswana, Georgia, Madagascar, Mexico and the Philippines.

Statements were also made by the Observer for the Holy See, the Observer for the State of Palestine, the Observer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Observer of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

The representatives of Morocco, China, the Russian Federation, Israel, Algeria, Viet Nam, Georgia, the Philippines and the Observer for the State of Palestine made statements in the exercise of the right of reply.

In their general observations, delegations underscored that respect for the rule of law at the national and international levels was essential to maintaining international peace and security. They also emphasized the critical role of the rule of law in achieving socio-economic development and stressed that it was an important foundation for the universal respect of the principles of justice, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the fulfilment of its principles and purposes, including the sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity and the peaceful settlement of disputes. The need for all States to adhere to the rule of law and the importance of fighting impunity and seeking accountability for all were also underlined by some delegations.  It was pointed out that it was essential to ensure dialogue transcending the diversity of cultures and traditions. Concern was expressed by some delegations at  the threat of erosion of the international order, especially with regard to the use of force, and it was emphasized that no State was above the law.

The role of the rule of law as an essential factor in achieving the three pillars of the United Nations, namely peace and security, human rights and development, was emphasized by several delegations. The need for promoting discussions on how to further strengthen the linkages between the rule of law and three pillars was stressed.

Several delegations expressed the view that the rule of law and development were mutually reinforcing. They welcomed the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals and called for their implementation. Some delegations underlined that they attached great importance to Goal 16, on Peace, justice and strong institutions, as it was a goal dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.

Some delegations highlighted the need to ensure respect for the rule of law by all States so as to avoiding selectivity and double standards in the application of the law. Other delegations stressed that the arbitrary exercise of powers should be avoided. A number of delegations reiterated that it was indispensable to maintain a balance in developing the national and international dimensions of the rule of law. Other delegations stressed the importance of national ownership in rule of law activities and of strengthening national capacities of Member States in the domestic implementation of their respective international obligations. Some delegations stated that the concept of the rule of law should not be used as a pretext to reform the constitutional order of States. 

A number of 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 declaration adopted on that occasion, while also recalling the pledges made therein. Some delegations proposed a follow-up to the high-level meeting.

Delegations thanked the Secretary-General for his annual report (A/70/206). Some delegations suggested that the report should focus primarily on the rule of law at the international level. Concerns were raised by other delegations over the report, in particular that any assessment of the state of the rule of law at the national level would be an illegitimate intervention into domestic affairs; that the terminology of “atrocity crimes” had no support in international law. Several delegations stated that the United Nations should recall that there was no single agreed upon definition of the rule of law. The view was expressed that the main obstacle to United Nations rule of law activities was not political differences but a lack of funding.

In accordance with General Assembly resolution 69/123, delegations focused their debate at the current session on the sub-topic, “The role of multilateral treaty processes in promoting and advancing the rule of law”. A number of delegations stressed the need to revitalize the General Assembly and to reform the Security Council. They also emphasized that United Nations organs should lead by example while being accountable for their action.

Some delegations proposed an annual discussion of the multilateral treaty process. Other delegations highlighted previous discussions on the topic of multilateral treaty-making within the United Nations. Several delegations recognized the vital importance of multilateral treaties to the development of a comprehensive international legal framework and to ensuring the rule of law throughout the international system.

Delegations set out different areas within which treaties had played a prominent role, including the protection of the environment and human rights. Delegations underlined that multilateral treaties had facilitated the peaceful settlement of disputes and enhanced global peace and security. Several delegations stressed that multilateral treaty processes consolidated international consensus and provided certainty on the rights and obligations of States, providing structure, predictability and legitimacy to the international legal framework. Some delegations discussed the dramatic changes and growth that had occurred in recent decades in the realm of multilateral treaties, thus creating new challenges. Some other delegations suggested that States should try to avoid making treaties that were sparsely ratified or never came into force, as they created obstacles at the international level and used unnecessary resources. The view was expressed recalling that treaties were not the only tool at the international community’s disposal for advancing common interests; other tools included non-binding instruments. The role that non-state actors might play in the multilateral treaty process was mentioned.

A number of delegations recognized the importance of multilateral treaties to the codification and development of customary international law. Several delegations highlighted the inclusive role of the multilateral treaty process, enabling all States to contribute on an equal, inclusive and transparent platform for the development of international law. Several delegations emphasized the role of small and/or developing States in the conduct of the multilateral treaty process; the challenges that such States face when seeking to participate was also highlighted. Several delegations underlined the importance of the role of the United Nations, and particularly of the General Assembly, in the full range of multilateral treaty processes. The view was also expressed that the activities of the United Nations system should promote a wider participation of all States in the codification and progressive development of international law. While some delegations acknowledged the role of the International Law Commission (ILC) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in codifying and progressively developing international law, other delegations underlined the need for more States to participate and contribute to the work of the ILC. A concern that the Sixth Committee had contributed relatively little in this regard in recent years was noted, and the pursuit of consensus without even the possibility of a vote as an alternative was seen as reducing incentives to compromise. In this respect, it was suggested that, rather than reflecting a decreasing role for the ILC or the Sixth Committee, the latter should continue to serve as a platform for the exchange of views on recent developments in treaty law achieved through other processes. It was pointed out that there was a need to explain and improve the processes of codification.

Delegations supported the wide ratification and implementation of multilateral treaties in general. Several delegations drew attention to specific multilateral instruments that had been or were to be concluded through such processes, including the Rome Statute, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the processes focused on climate change and marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction. Several delegations highlighted their national and/or regional efforts in the development of international law through treaty processes, as well as how these efforts had shaped instruments negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations. The importance of monitoring mechanisms for multilateral treaties was underlined. It was suggested to develop multilateral rules governing “new frontiers” such as cyber space and outer space, and noted that certain treaties such as Free Trade Area agreements posed challenges in their negotiation.

Several delegations welcomed activities of the United Nations in a wide-range of rule of law areas, and emphasized the importance of the provision of technical assistance and capacity building to Member States. Several delegations considered that room for improvement existed in terms of increasing the efficiency of United Nations rule of law activities. Several delegations welcomed the work of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group (RoLCRG) and the Rule of Law Unit in coordinating and exchanging information on United Nations rule of law activities. A number of delegations commended and further encouraged the thematic briefings that had been organized in 2015 by the Unit, relevant to sharing knowledge and best practices, enhancing international cooperation and keeping Member States abreast of its activities. Some delegations further encouraged the Unit to ensure regular interaction between Member States and the General Assembly. It was stated that efforts by the Rule of Law Unit to explore initiatives to enable donors, recipients and other entities involved in financing rule of law activities to work in a more collaborative and coordinated manner, must be encouraged.

The role of the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) in supporting the codification and progressive development of international law, specifically within the multilateral treaty process, was welcomed and its increased role encouraged. Delegations highlighted the work of the  United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law was established by General Assembly resolution 2099 (XX) of 20 December 1965, and sought the Programme’s financial stability through the regular budget of the United Nations.

Several delegations commended the work of the Treaty Section of the OLA, including through its responsibilities for the registration and publication of bilateral and multilateral- treaties and as depositary of multilateral treaties; capacity building and training activities in the law of treaties; the annual treaty event; and the use of new technologies for their databases. Some delegations suggested that the Secretariat present information on the proposal to update the Summary of Practice of the Secretary-General as Depositary of Multilateral Treaties, amongst other potentially useful updates of manuals. It was underlined that the Treaty Section required sufficient resources to perform its mandates properly.

A number of delegations recognized the role played by international courts and tribunals and hybrid courts in upholding the rule of law, promoting the peaceful settlement of disputes, fighting impunity and ensuring accountability. The important work of the International Court of Justice was highlighted. It was stressed that the General Assembly and the Security Council should utilize the right to request advisory opinions from the ICJ whenever appropriate.  While it was pointed out that just over one third of Member States had accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, some delegations called on States that had not done so to consider accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

Other means for the peaceful settlement of international disputes in accordance with Article 33 of the Charter were also highlighted.

Several delegations emphasized the vital role played by the International Criminal Court in the fight against impunity for serious international crimes, in accordance with the principle of complementarity. The view was expressed that complementarity was of utmost importance and that it was the primary responsibility of States to investigate and prosecute violations of international law. Some delegations encouraged States to consider acceding to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and also urged States to also ratify the Kampala amendments thereto. Some delegations stressed the importance of international cooperation with the court. It was pointed out that any referrals by the Security Council of situations to the International Criminal Court should be based on objective criteria. The importance of nationally owned transitional justice mechanisms to strengthen the rule of law was also emphasized.

It was stressed that it was important to keep the rule of law on the agenda of the General Assembly.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   5th meeting (14 October 2015, 3:00pm - 6:00pm)

Video   6th meeting (15 October 2015, 10:00am - 1:00pm)

Video   7th meeting (15 October 2015, 3:00pm - 6:00pm)

Video   8th meeting (16 October 2015, 10:00am - 1:00pm)

Video   29th meeting (20 November 2015, 10:00am - 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 29th meeting, on 20 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.6/70/L.16). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/70/L.16 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; encourage the Secretary-General and the United Nations system to accord high priority to rule of law activities; welcome the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; recognize the role of multilateral treaty processes in advancing the rule of law; 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’’; recognize the importance of the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law; reiterate the request to the Secretary-General to ensure greater coordination and coherence among United Nations entities and with donors and recipients; call for dialogue to be enhanced among all stakeholders with a view to placing national perspectives at the centre of rule of law assistance in order to strengthen national ownership; 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; recall the commitment of the Member States to take all necessary steps to provide fair, transparent, effective, non-discriminatory and accountable services that promote access to justice for all, including legal aid, encourage further dialogue and the sharing of national practices in strengthening the rule of law through access to justice; stress the importance of promoting the sharing of national practices and of inclusive dialogue, and invite the Secretary-General to propose ways for Member States to voluntarily exchange best national practices on the rule of law. The Assembly would further decide to include the item in the provisional agenda of its seventy-first session and invite Member States to focus their comments in the upcoming Sixth Committee debate on the subtopics “Sharing national practices of States in the implementation of multilateral treaties” and “Practical measures to facilitate access to justice for all, including for the poorest and most vulnerable”.

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