Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to Assembly’s Legal Committee, Reviews Ongoing United Nations Activity in Field of ‘Rule of Law’

14 October 2009

Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to Assembly’s Legal Committee, Reviews Ongoing United Nations Activity in Field of ‘Rule of Law’

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

Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to Assembly’s Legal Committee,


Reviews Ongoing United Nations Activity in Field of ‘Rule of Law’


This is the text of remarks by the UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today to the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee (Legal) on the question of the rule of law:

The rule of law at the international level rests on commonly agreed principles, enshrined in and underpinning the Charter of the United Nations and further developed over the years.  In an international system where the exercise of power is subject to law, States must fulfil their obligations.  The principle that all individuals and entities ‑‑ including States ‑‑ are accountable to the law drives our efforts in this field.

Strengthening the rule of law is, therefore, central to achieving the vision of the United Nations for a just, secure and peaceful world.  This is a complex field linked to addressing critical goals such as poverty reduction and sustainable human development.  It is closely linked to peacebuilding and peacekeeping, the accountability for gross violations of human rights, and combating organized crime.

This is the context in which the report of the Secretary-General on the rule of law at the national and the international levels contained in document A/64/298 is submitted.  The report was prepared in response to a request by the General Assembly in resolution 63/64.

This is the first annual report regarding the United Nations support to Member States on strengthening the rule of law at the national and international levels.  The report provides an opportunity, now each year, to give a broad and critical overview of the extensive efforts undertaken by the United Nations to strengthen its rule-of-law work at all levels.  It also provides an opportunity to place these activities in the context of strategic and coherent approaches that yield results.

The report builds upon the principal landmarks in the process of strengthening and coordinating the Organization’s rule-of-law efforts; efforts that are a result of the 2005 World Summit Outcome requesting States to strengthen their attention to the rule of law.

The mandate given to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly is to enhance coherence and coordination for effectiveness and efficiency.  In this regard the report notes that the United Nations is conducting rule-of-law activities in over 120 countries in all regions.  In at least 50 countries, a minimum of three United Nations entities are carrying out rule-of-law activities.  In addition, five or more United Nations departments, agencies, funds and programmes are concurrently working on rule of law in over 30 countries, 22 of which host peace operations.

The report reveals that linkages between the rule of law at the national and international levels are substantial and multifaceted.  The overall aim of the United Nations activities is, therefore, to find better ways to support Member States to comply with international obligations.

To this end, at the national level, the report provides an analysis of key examples of efforts and achievements of United Nations operational entities.  It is structured around implementation of the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General.  The note provides the overarching principles and framework for strengthening the rule of law at the national level.  Indeed, the report records progress being made in strengthening joint action in support of national needs and priorities.

The report also outlines activities that strengthen means of accountability to law and of peaceful dispute settlement.  In this regard, the trend towards greater utilization of treaty-based mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes should be encouraged.  This is particularly important for the International Court of Justice.

Furthermore, the pursuit of individual responsibility for crimes under international law has advanced steadily.  The Secretary-General thus requests that the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group enhance strategies to strengthen the capacity of Member States to end impunity.  This includes consolidating the legacy of international and national efforts.

Undoubtedly, the rule of law at the international level is an evolving area which requires substantial and ongoing attention.  Open discussion should move us towards concrete and innovative measures to advance this critical agenda.

The progress we are making is not without difficulties.  As noted in the report, one of these challenges is early strategic and effective engagement in conflict and post-conflict societies.  The Organization must be better equipped to respond to immediate needs in the rule of law in countries undergoing and emerging from conflict.  The development of rapidly deployable rule of law assistance, especially Standing Police Capacity, is a first necessary element.

We must seek to address immediate needs for legal protection, safety and access to justice.  At the same time, we must lay the building blocks for long-term development and public confidence in justice and security institutions.  More attention should also be paid to prisons and addressing pretrial detention in programming to ensure lawful and humane criminal justice systems.

Another critical challenge is strengthening the rule of law response to sexual and gender-based violence.  Security Council resolution 1888 is a landmark in this regard.  It places a heightened responsibility on those who provide rule-of-law assistance.  It emphasizes the need to urgently strengthen national legal, judicial and security institutions to prevent, and combat impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict.

Lastly, it is important that rule-of-law efforts are more firmly grounded in the development agenda of the Organization.  This was a widely agreed conclusion of the system-wide meeting on rule of law involving 27 United Nations entities this spring.  Indeed, strengthening the rule of law is a long-term investment and a prerequisite for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The Secretary-General requests that we convene relevant United Nations entities and agencies to explore enhancing rule-of-law activities that protect economic and social rights (para. 97(c)).  The demand for progress in this area is reflected in the initiatives to highlight and develop capacity for the legal empowerment of the poor.  Your support for more strategic action and coherence across the United Nations system will be much-needed in this regard.

The Secretary-General is committed to ensure concrete progress in our work on the rule of law.  Consequently, the Rule of Law Resource and Coordination Group, which brings together Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Political Affairs, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has made progress.  It has done so by coordinating the unique wealth of expertise and resources of the Organization into concrete action.

The Group is complemented by a system of designated lead entities, charged with coordinating and facilitating sector-specific engagement for delivering assistance on the ground.

As I noted in my informal briefing to the General Assembly on 2 October 2009, this is the first year that the Group, with the support of the Rule of Law Unit, has begun implementation of the Joint Strategic Plan.  This is a results-oriented road map that sets out targeted initiatives and outcomes for the next three years.  It marks a significant step in bringing together the nine leading departments and agencies engaged in rule-of-law activities to work towards joint outcomes.

One of the principal outcomes of the strategic joint plan is to strengthen coherence, quality and coordination of policy and guidance within the Organization at the global level.  To this end, guidance has been issued by the Secretary-General, based on the expertise of the Group and the Unit, on important cross-cutting issues.  This guidance is beginning to show impact on the ground, for example, in strengthening efforts on justice for children in various countries.  Another principal outcome of the Plan is to implement the United Nations common approach to rule-of-law assistance at the national level.

The Group is currently in consultation to identify a country to pilot the development and implementation of joint programming.  This effort should build on existing rule-of-law programming and result in increased support benefiting the national and United Nations leadership in country.

The Secretary-General requests that we support efforts by donors to establish a policy platform bringing together recipients, civil society experts and multilateral organizations to address current challenges (para. 97(a)).  He has repeatedly stressed in his reports that the most important partnerships are with national leaders and stakeholders.

The Rule of Law Unit has thus recently initiated a consultative process with national leaders from recipient countries who have played a key role in this area.  The process aims at placing perspectives of national Government and civil society stakeholders in recipient countries at the centre of making rule-of-law efforts more strategic and effective.

These are the fruits of our initial labour benefiting the Organization system-wide.  The Secretariat is responding to the repeated calls by Member States ‑‑ at the World Summit in 2005 and in subsequent General Assembly resolutions ‑‑ to enhance the coordination, coherence and efficiency of the United Nations’ rule-of-law work.  We thank Member States for their generous contributions and support.  The United Nations is, more than ever, committed to working towards a just, secure and peaceful world, governed by the rule of law.

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