Sixth Committee (Legal) — 75th session

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


Summary of work

Background (source: A/75/100)

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, 72/119, 73/207 and 74/191).

At its seventy-fourth session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination and by 72 delegations (see A/C.6/74/SR.811). 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 to focus their comments during the upcoming Sixth Committee debate on the subtopic “Measures to prevent and combat corruption” (resolution 74/191).

Consideration at the seventy-fifth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 7th to 9th, 16th and 19th meetings, on 19, 20 and 22 October and on 10 and 19 November 2020 (see A/C.6/75/SR.7916 and 19).

At the 8th meeting, on 20 October 2020, the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, made a statement.

Statements were made by the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)), South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), the European Union (on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilization 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 (also on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (Nordic Countries)), Nicaragua, Austria, Liechtenstein, Singapore, Argentina, Syrian Arab Republic, Slovenia, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, El Salvador, Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand (CANZ)), Ghana, India, China, Nepal, Guatemala, Brazil, Croatia, Sierra Leone, the Sudan, Viet Nam, Israel, Egypt, Cuba [in English], Georgia, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Colombia, Qatar, Japan, Senegal, Togo, Serbia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Maldives, Belarus, Thailand, Ukraine, Peru, the Philippines, Malaysia, Russian Federation, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Eritrea, Armenia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Morocco, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Kuwait, Dominican Republic, and Turkey.

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

The representatives of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Mauritius 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 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 16 and access to justice for all. 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 as well as the right to self-determination, refraining from the threat or use of force, emphasizing the need for non-interference in domestic affairs, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Delegations thanked the Secretary-General for his report on “Strengthening and Coordinating the United Nations Rule of Law Activities” (A/75/284), outlining their efforts to uphold the rule of law at the national and international levels. Several delegations commented on this year’s subtopic “Measures to prevent and combat corruption” (GA resolution 74/191, para. 23 of 30 December 2019). In this regard, concerns about corruption and safe havens for illicit financial flows and assets were particularly underlined. Delegations also stressed that corruption exacerbates poverty and inequality and has a disproportionate effect on those in most vulnerable situations, diverting resources and undermining trust among people and nations. Delegations expressed the view that corruption is even more damaging in times of crisis, such as the present time during which the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Several delegations also pointed out that new issues have emerged in the context of the COVID‑19 response efforts, highlighting the need to make the fight against corruption a policy priority.  A number of delegations underscored the importance of education and democratic governance in fighting the many forms that corruption may take, including bribery, sexual harassment and impunity. In that connection, delegations also pointed out that prevention and fight against corruption are powerful tools to prevent international crimes in general, which enable violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Many delegations also commended the work of civil society in the fight against corruption.

A few delegations mentioned that, to fight corruption alongside new challenges of terrorism and organized crime, new laws on the criminalization of corruption, new penal codes and whistle-blower protection laws, among other measures, were being drafted and adopted at the national level.

It was nonetheless stressed that more remains to be done, several delegations pointed to the necessary continuous legal and administrative efforts to tackle favoritism, bribery, and negligence of public responsibility.   It was also stressed that a staggering volume of wealth has been stolen from developing countries due to bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, and that it was imperative to impose criminal and financial penalties upon financial institutions enabling corruption. Several delegations noted that combating corruption would require strengthening institutions, making them more transparent and accountable, removing loopholes and ensuring that all stakeholders work together on these initiatives. Delegations also emphasized the role of multilateralism in fighting corruption and advancing the rule of law internationally.

Delegations also considered the issue of asset recovery, highlighting the need for mutual legal assistance and cooperation in the global effort to combat corruption. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was highlighted as a bedrock of the international engagement on corruption. In this regard, delegations welcomed the convening of a Special Session of the General Assembly on Corruption in 2021 as an important opportunity to reinforce the full and effective implementation of the UNCAC. Delegations stated that, as the first-ever Special Session on this matter, it will provide an opportunity to advance the global anti-corruption agenda, including through the adoption of new innovative approaches and sharing best practices.  Several delegations also expressed the need for the Special Session to further strengthen the important anti-corruption work conducted under the auspices of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, including on anti-corruption training, capacity building and technical assistance.

A number of delegations commended the United Nations for its continued engagement and assistance to Member States in the promotion and strengthening the rule of law, including as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some delegations also 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, while others underlined that enhanced initiatives were needed. In addition, several delegations acknowledged the significant contributions of the International Law Commission to the codification and progressive development of international law.

Delegations also expressed their support for international courts and tribunals, in particular, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Some delegations emphasized the importance of recourse to the former for the pacific settlement of disputes as well as the value of advisory opinions rendered by the Court, while others called upon States to consent to its jurisdiction. While some delegations welcomed the work 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, underlining that the selective approach to prosecution of serious crimes was a source of instability. A number of delegations also expressed their support for the work conducted by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. They also called on all parties to fully respect international law, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS).

Several delegations highlighted the role of international treaties and their observance as central in maintaining good relations among States, upholding the rule of law at the international level, and protecting universal human rights within States.

A number of delegations also mentioned other challenges posed to the rule of law, including by climate change, cybercrimes and other risks associated with technological development. Several delegations highlighted efforts made in promoting gender equality and providing security and justice for women and girls, while some further underlined the importance of ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

A few delegations expressed their disappointment with paragraph 74 of the report regarding the death penalty, suggesting that it is in accordance with human rights standards to oppose the application of the death penalty in all circumstances. In that regard, it was recalled that there was no international consensus on the use of death penalty and that Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides for the use of death penalty for the most serious crimes. Some delegations further rejected the contention implied in the paragraph that it would advance SDG 16 by stating that when imposed in accordance with due process of law and judicial safeguards, it is entirely compatible with SDG 16. Concerned delegations called for future Secretary-General reports to be presented in an objective, neutral and non-partisan manner.

Echoing the statement by the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, delegations expressed their support for his call for new thinking and renewed action on governance and rule of law structures responsive to the challenges ahead and States’ responsibilities to future generations.

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   7th meeting (19 October 2020, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Video   8th meeting (20 October 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   9th meeting (22 October 2020, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Video   16th meeting (10 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   19th meeting (19 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 16th meeting, on 10 November 2020, the representative of Mexico, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced the draft resolution entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” (A/C.6/75/L.4). The Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/75/L.4 without a vote at its 19th meeting on 19 November 2020.

The draft resolution calls on the General Assembly to recall the 2012 high-level meeting of the General  Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels, to take note of the report of the Secretary-General submitted pursuant to paragraph 41 of the declaration adopted at that meeting, and requests the Sixth Committee to continue its consideration of ways and means of further developing the linkages between the rule of law and the three pillars of the United Nations. The resolution also calls 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 and requests 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 of 11 December 2008, addressing, in a balanced manner, the national and international dimensions of the rule of law. The resolution further states that it is decided to include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-sixth session the item entitled “The rule of law at the national and international levels” and invites 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.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-sixth session (2021).

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