Sixth Committee (Legal) — 73rd session

The rule of law at the national and international levels (Agenda item 86)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/73/100)

The item entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” was included in the agenda of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly at the request of Liechtenstein and Mexico (A/61/142). The Assembly has had the item on its agenda since its sixty-first session (resolutions 61/39, 62/70, 63/128, 64/116, 65/32, 66/102, 67/1 (Declaration of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels), 67/97, 68/116, 69/123, 70/118, 71/148 and 72/119).

At its seventy-second session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by the Deputy Secretary-General and by 79 delegations (see A/C.6/72/SR.58). The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit, in a timely manner, his next annual report on United Nations rule of law activities, in accordance with paragraph 5 of its resolution 63/128, addressing, in a balanced manner, the national and international dimensions of the rule of law, and invited Member States and the Secretary-General to suggest possible subtopics for future Sixth Committee debates, for inclusion in the forthcoming annual report, with a view to assisting the Sixth Committee in choosing future subtopics (resolution 72/119).

Consideration at the seventy-third session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 7th to 10th and 35th meetings, on 8 and 9 October and on 13 November 2018 (see A/C.6/73/SR.7, 8, 9, 10 and 35).

At the 7th meeting, on 8 October 2018, the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, introduced the report of the Secretary-General and made a statement.

Statements were made by the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), the Gambia (on behalf of the African Group), Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), the European Union (also on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia aligned themselves with the statement)), Denmark (also on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (Nordic countries)), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)) [in English], Austria, Qatar, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Gabon, Japan, Slovenia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Republic of Korea, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, Rwanda, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Cuba, Thailand, Lebanon, Switzerland, Iraq, India, the United Republic of Tanzania, South Africa, Togo, Mexico, Uruguay, Ukraine, Israel, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ghana, Argentina, Paraguay, China (in English), the Russian Federation, Tonga, Peru, Namibia, Egypt, the United States of America, Eritrea, Georgia, Nepal, Singapore, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Honduras, Guatemala, Philippines, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, Senegal, Serbia, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Myanmar, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Slovakia, Croatia, the Gambia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Bahrain, Viet Nam, Guinea, Tunisia, Timor-Leste and Dominican Republic.

Statements were also made by the observers for the Holy See, the State of Palestine, and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

The representatives of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Israel made statements in the exercise of the right of reply.

In their general observations, many delegations highlighted the fundamental role of the rule of law in advancing the three pillars of the United Nations (i.e., peace and security, human rights and development) and in achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 16. A number of delegations stressed the need for the promotion of the rule of law in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter, including respect for the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States, refraining from threat or use of force, non-interference in domestic affairs, and peaceful settlement of disputes. Several delegations further underlined the importance of maintaining a balance between national and international dimensions of the rule of law.

Delegations generally welcomed the report of the Secretary-General, while some delegations addressed their concerns with reference to certain aspects of the report. Several delegations expressed regret that no subtopic had been selected for the Sixth Committee’s debate at this session. At the same time, delegations shared diverging views on the subtopics suggested in the report for future debates. A number of delegations also provided information on their national efforts to promote rule of law.

Several delegations expressed their appreciation for the capacity-building and technical assistance activities of the United Nations, including the work of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit of the Secretariat. A number of delegations called for further reflection upon ways to make the rule of law assistance of the United Nations more effective, coherent and sustainable. Several delegations highlighted that there was no singular definition of the rule of law, underlining the significance of national ownership in rule of law activities and the importance of undertaking different approaches to accommodate States’ domestic needs.

Delegations further highlighted the efforts of the Office of Legal Affairs in the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels. A number of delegations commended the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law. Several delegations also underlined the importance of treaty law and treaty-making processes, expressing appreciation for the support provided by the Treaty Section. The role of multilateralism in advancing the rule of law at the international level was emphasized.

In addition, several delegations acknowledged the significant contributions of the International Law Commission to the codification and development of international law. A number of delegations also expressed their support for international courts and tribunals such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Some delegations further welcomed the activation of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the crime of aggression and the amendments to article 8 of the Rome Statute to cover additional war crimes, although criticism of the International Criminal Court was expressed. While some delegations welcomed the operationalization of the International Impartial Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria and the establishment of a similar mechanism for Myanmar, others criticized the creation of such mechanisms.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   7th meeting (8 October 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   8th meeting (8 October 2018, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Video   9th meeting (9 October 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   10th meeting (9 October 2018, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Video   35th meeting (13 November 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 35th meeting, on 13 November 2018, 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.6/73/L.19). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/73/L.19 without a vote. After the adoption of the draft resolution, the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic made a statement in explanation of position.

Under the draft resolution, the General Assembly would, inter alia, recall the high-level meeting of the Assembly held 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; reaffirm its commitment to working tirelessly for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; recognize the role of multilateral and bilateral treaties and treaty processes in advancing the rule of law and encourage States to further consider the promotion of treaties in areas where international cooperation could benefit from treaties; call for the continuation of 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 to the furtherance of United Nations rule of law programmes and activities; reiterate its request to the Secretary-General to ensure greater coordination and coherence among the 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; recall the commitment of Member States to take all necessary steps to promote access to justice for all, and encourage further dialogue and the sharing of national practices and expertise in strengthening the rule of law through access to justice; invite Member States to voluntarily exchange national best practices on the rule of law in informal meetings and on an electronic depository of best practices on the United Nations rule of law website; and invite Member States to focus their comments during the upcoming Sixth Committee debate on the subtopic “Sharing best practices and ideas to promote the respect of States for international law”.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will be considered at the  seventy-fourth session (2019).

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