4 March 2009


4 March 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at the American Bar Association’s Day at the United Nations in New York today, 3 March:

Thank you for inviting me to close this year’s “ABA Day at the UN”.  I had the pleasure of meeting some of you last August, when I addressed the opening assembly of your annual meeting.

As a former practising lawyer and law professor, I particularly appreciate this Group’s expertise in, and commitment to, the work of the United Nations.  That work is central to us.  Over the years, we have steadily expanded our support to Member States in strengthening the rule of law.  Our personnel have engaged in a vast range of activities.  They have also gained critical practical experience. 

Nevertheless, our capacities can always be strengthened.  This is a complex field and the full range of issues related to the rule of law can only be addressed collectively -- by the whole United Nations system and not by any individual department, agency, fund or programme acting on its own.

Our assistance, therefore, needs to be strengthened through better coordination, United Nations-wide substantive guidance, strategic planning and the development of best practices and knowledge management.  By developing these areas, we can ensure that the United Nations system responds coherently to requests from Member States and mandates from the Security Council.

When we met in August, I mentioned the recent establishment of the Rule of Law Coordination Group and the Rule of Law Unit.  The Rule of Law Coordination Group comprises representatives from the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, headed by Patricia O’Brien, the Department of Political Affairs, the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, the Office on Drugs and Crime, UNICEF, the UN Development Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Development Fund for Women.  The Rule of Law Unit services and assists the work of the Group, and reports directly to the Deputy Secretary-General.

I am pleased to report that the work of the Group and the Unit has developed rapidly.  Allow me to share some of the results.  Last May, the Group adopted, and the Secretary-General endorsed, a Guidance Note on the United Nations approach to rule of law assistance.  The Note outlines overarching principles and a policy framework to guide the assistance provided throughout the United Nations system.  UNICEF and the Rule of Law Unit also developed a Guidance Note on justice for children.  It was adopted by the Group and endorsed by the Secretary-General in September.  Both Notes are examples of our efforts to foster system-wide attention to the rule of law and to identify a division of labour among the key United Nations entities. 

The Group’s most recent achievement was the adoption of a Joint Strategic Plan for 2009-2011.  The Plan sets out a collective vision as well as shared outcomes and outputs to which the nine Group entities can contribute.  There are three principal outcomes.  First is strengthened coherence, quality and coordination of rule of law policy and guidance.  Second is effective United Nations Joint Programmes in selected pilot countries.  And third is the reaffirmation by Member States of the importance of the rule of law.

One aspect of the Plan that may be of particular interest to this Group is the possible preparation of a Secretary-General’s Guidance Note on the rule of law at the international level.  The Office of Legal Affairs is studying the proposal, both in terms of the approach that should be taken and the value that such a Note might add. 

The rule of law at the national and international levels has also been on the agenda of the Sixth Committee since 2006, when the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to provide an inventory of rule-of-law activities within the United Nations system. 

The Codification Division of the Office of Legal Affairs gathered and analysed input from 40 offices throughout the United Nations system.  The Secretary-General’s report, issued a year ago, presented an inventory of the current capacity of the Organization to perform rule-of-law activities.  With 520 entries, it is something of a landmark achievement.

The activities are diverse in nature and scope.  At the international level, activities include teaching, promoting and disseminating international law; assistance in the domestic implementation of international law; dispute resolution; conflict resolution; and transitional justice.  At the national level, the activities relate to governance, administrative institutions, law enforcement and the administration of justice.

Last August, the Secretary-General issued an additional report on strengthening and coordinating the activities listed in the inventory.  The report indicated that a Guidance Note to the whole United Nations system would be issued, setting out a common United Nations approach to promoting the rule of law at the national level.

Rule-of-law assistance must be consistent and continuous, from peacemaking and peacebuilding through long-term development.  It is essential to ensure that early and appropriate assistance is available, particularly in conflict and post-conflict environments.

With respect to promoting the rule of law at the international level, the report identified the relationship between international law and its application at the national level as a critical area for United Nations focus.  It highlighted the importance of evaluating the impact of United Nations assistance.  And it identified the need for partnerships between the United Nations and other rule-of-law actors, including bilateral donors and international organizations, non-governmental organizations, States receiving assistance and, of course, members of civil society such as the ABA.

Last December, the General Assembly adopted the Sixth Committee’s draft resolution by which the Assembly stressed the importance of adherence to the rule of law at the national level.  The Assembly also stressed the importance of strengthening support to Member States, upon their request, for the domestic implementation of their international obligations through enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building.

The resolution also established a calendar of debate topics for the next three years.  At this year’s session, the focus will be on “Promoting the rule of law at the international level”.  Next year, the discussion will be on “Laws and practices of Member States in implementing international law”.  And in 2011, Member States will focus on the “Rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations”.  These subjects will allow us to cover a lot of important ground, including topics such as the role of the United Nations in the peaceful settlement of disputes, the domestic implementation and interpretation of international law, and efforts to combat impunity.  For this and other reasons, I was very encouraged by the adoption of this resolution.

I hope this brief presentation has given you a good window onto our recent achievements and our future focus in the rule of law.  I look forward to continuing our work together and deepening our ties.  Thank you for your attention.  Now I would be happy to take your questions.

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