11 August 2008


11 August 2008
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

ensure justice is not sidelined in short-term interest of unsustainable peace,

urges Deputy Secretary-General in remarks to american bar association

Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the American Bar Association, in New York on 9 August:

It gives me great pleasure to address the Opening Assembly of the American Bar Association’s 2008 Annual Meeting.  Before I assumed office as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and before I was Foreign Minister of Tanzania, I was a practising lawyer and a professor of law.  I, therefore, feel quite at home among all of you.

First, let me pay tribute to you, Mr. President and the American legal community, for your years of support for the United Nations.   United States diplomats and lawyers led efforts to prepare the draft of the United Nations Charter in the 1940s, and they paved the way for domestic support of the institution under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.  Indeed, you were with the Organization at its inception, and you are still with us today.  Thank you.

Thank you also for this opportunity to share some thoughts on the rule-of-law activities of the United Nations.  As lawyers, you know better than anyone that rules and regulations are designed to establish order and stability by providing clarity and structure to human interactions.

In order to develop and flourish, all professions need accountable Governments, procedures and laws enacted on the basis of due process and human rights, and a system of advocates and umpires to solve disputes fairly and impartially.  This applies not just to legal work, but to all human activity.

In this context, I congratulate the American Bar Association on the successful launch of the “World Justice Project”.  I understand the project seeks to engage other disciplines -- such as health, education, military, journalism, the arts and business -- in advancing the rule of law worldwide.  This is a truly ambitious yet necessary undertaking, and I wish you great success.

Your new initiative reinforces the UN’s own longstanding efforts to promote the rule of law.  The Organization’s founders expressed the resolve “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.  Today, the United Nations promotes the rule of law at the international level and at the national level, and at the critical interface between the two, the national implementation of international law.

Our work is driven by the belief that respect for international law is crucial for the maintenance of international peace and security.  To use the words of Judge Higgins, President of the International Court of Justice, “in a world often divided by politics, international law is our common language”.

This shared language lies at the heart of the United Nations Charter.  Since the Organization’s founding, we have supported the promotion, development and implementation of international law and standards in almost all fields -- from the environment to disarmament, from organized crime to the law of the sea, from human rights to trade.  Progress on this front represents one of the Organization’s greatest achievements.

Today, our main challenge is not to come up with new laws, norms and treaties.  But to give meaning to the vast body of law that has already been promulgated.  In other words, rule of law as a mere concept is not enough.  Laws must be put into practice and permeate the fabric of our lives.

Perhaps no other issue sums up this challenge better than the work by the United Nations and the international community to bring an end to impunity.  Regrettably, more than six decades after the end of the Second World War, the world continues to witness appalling crimes.  At the same time, there is also growing international acceptance that impunity for these crimes cannot be tolerated, and that there can be no lasting peace until the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, both established by the Security Council, were pioneering entities.  Their work opened the door to other forums to fight impunity under international law, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The success of these courts reinforced the sense of the international community that a more permanent forum to address the most egregious atrocities was needed.

That dream finally came to life in the creation of the International Criminal Court.  Unlike ad hoc tribunals of all kinds, the ICC is a permanent institution.  Already, in the relatively short period of its existence, the Court has established itself as the centrepiece of our system of international criminal justice.  Its creation is clearly one of the major achievements in international law during the past century.

Yet the welcome emergence of international criminal law raises its own questions.  For instance, one particular challenge in the context of post-conflict situations is to reconcile the need for peace with the duty of justice.  For the United Nations, justice and peace are complementary requirements.  We strongly believe that there can be no lasting peace without justice.  The question, therefore, is not whether justice should be pursued, but rather how best to interlink the two in light of the specific circumstances, without sacrificing one for another.

The United Nations has a clear position that it cannot support any amnesty for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights abuses.  I hope that you, as legal professionals, will work wherever possible to ensure that justice is not sidelined in the short-term interest of an unsustainable peace.

World leaders pledged in 2005 to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  Now, the need to make this responsibility to protect fully operational represents a major priority and challenge for the United Nations and for our Member States.  I urge you to press for the close attention to the issue within your own country.

Let me turn, briefly, to the UN’s rule-of-law work at the national level.

Currently, some 40 entities around the United Nations system are actively engaged in the promotion of the rule of law in more than 110 countries and in all regions of the globe.

In Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Somalia and Uganda, United Nations assistance covers support for legal reform; transitional justice; strengthening of law enforcement, justice and corrections institutions; gender justice; and justice for children and for the drafting and implementation of national justice and security strategies and development plans.

In some of these countries, assistance is also provided on organized crime issues; constitution-making; rule of law in mediation processes; and on housing, land and property issues related to refugees and internally displaced persons.  Such issues have been key priorities of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission’s support to Sierra Leone, Burundi and Guinea-Bissau.

Since the recent upheaval in Kenya, the United Nations has worked to ensure that rule-of-law issues are fully considered in the mediation process and in transitional justice efforts.  Elsewhere, the United Nations is carrying out rule-of-law programming in long-term development contexts, such as Angola, Bolivia, Georgia, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The growing breadth of activities has also necessitated a review and rationalization of our work.  We are, therefore, working to strengthen our capacity, enhance institutional memory and coordinate more effectively within the Organization.

A Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group has been established, supported by a Rule of Law Unit within the Secretariat.  The Group consists of the nine principals of the major rule-of-law assistance providers in the United Nations family, who meet regularly under my chairmanship.  I encourage you to closely follow and support its work.

At the same time, greater coordination and coherence within the United Nations has to be matched by coherence with other rule-of-law actors.  The United Nations is but one actor in the field.  Our experience over the past 15 years illustrates that a lack of strategic planning and coordination among all rule-of-law entities, including donor Governments and non-governmental organizations, can produce duplication and can waste effort and money.

Unfortunately, rule-of-law assistance has sometimes been piecemeal and, in some instances, donor-driven and not in line with national priorities.  There is an urgent need to move towards approaches that are nationally-driven and sustainable, and approaches that can garner the requisite political buy-in.

We -- the rule-of-law community -- can and must do more in the face of high expectations.  I know that the American Bar Association is committed to advancing the rule of law.  You have worked with us in the past to provide rule-of-law assistance, and we look forward to partnering with you to advance our shared aims.

Together, we must deliver on our commitment to promote and strengthen the rule of law at the national and international levels.  If we succeed -- and we must -- we will put in place the foundation stone of a peaceful and prosperous world.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.