Fundamental Principle of Rule of Law ‘Our Best Hope for Building Peaceful, Prosperous Societies’, Says Secretary-General, in General Assembly Debate

11 April 2011

Fundamental Principle of Rule of Law ‘Our Best Hope for Building Peaceful, Prosperous Societies’, Says Secretary-General, in General Assembly Debate

11 April 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Fundamental Principle of Rule of Law ‘Our Best Hope for Building Peaceful,

Prosperous Societies’, Says Secretary-General, in General Assembly Debate


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly’s informal thematic debate on “The Rule of Law and Global Challenges”, in New York, 11 April:

We need look no further than the news headlines to appreciate the importance of this debate.

Across the Arab world, people long denied basic rights and freedoms demand justice, dignity and rule of law.

In Africa, Asia and Europe, we hear the call for good governance; transparency and protections against corruption; effective, trustworthy legal systems; accountability for crimes and violations of civil rights.

The dramatic changes sweeping our world are not confined to any single geography or group of nations.

The principle they champion is universal — a bedrock belief in the supremacy of a government of laws, not of men.

This fundamental principle — the imperative of the rule of law — is central to our modern international order.  It represents our best hope for building peaceful, prosperous societies.

Nations need rules that each can be confident others will respect.  Hence the growing body of international norms and laws that spans all fields of human endeavour — from trade to the environment, from the law of the sea to treaties governing weapons of mass destruction.

Just as Governments are increasingly subject to international law, so too are they beholden to the will of their people.

All too often, the upheavals we see taking place around the world today spring from a common source — the failure of Governments to hear the needs and aspirations of their people.

Citizens want a fair say in their future — democracy.

They want laws that are publicly promulgated and equally enforced.

They want a fair and independent judiciary, subject only to the law.

They want the legal systems and guarantees that advance economic activity, job growth and investment.

Too often, in too many places, we see the facade of rule of law, without steps to make it fully real.

Strengthening the rule of law, worldwide, is a matter of utmost urgency.

Today’s debate marks the first time the General Assembly has met in plenary to discuss the rule of law since the World Summit in 2005.

The Organization has come a long way since then.

We have focused greater attention on transitional justice so that societies can come to terms with the legacy of past abuses.

Thanks largely to the work of the International Criminal Court and similar tribunals, crimes against humanity and large-scale violations of human rights will no longer go unpunished.

We are entering a new age of accountability.  The Security Council’s referral of the situation in Libya to the [International Criminal Court] is only the most recent testament to that effect.

The Security Council is also strengthening the rule of law mandates in peacekeeping and special political missions.

United Nations rule of law assistance now reaches more than 125 countries, in all regions of the globe.

Our peacekeepers are helping countries build or reform their police, justice and corrections institutions.  Our mediation teams provide advice on constitution-writing and other issues of rule of law.

A group chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General brings together the nine UN entities most active in this area.  Their goal:  to promote policy coherence and strategic thinking.

In advancing the rule of law, we need to work and deliver as one.  In this, we face four major challenges:

First, civilian capacity is not what it should be.

Second, financial resources allocated for strengthening the rule of law have not matched the rhetoric touting its importance.

Third, the community of relevant actors is fragmented.  The voices of recipient Governments often go unheard in policy discussions.

And fourth, we must recognize the political nature of this work, and overcome the political obstacles.

I welcome the General Assembly’s decision to hold a high-level event next year dedicated to the rule of law.  This will be an opportunity to bring all players to the table and renew our commitment.

It is time to think creatively about developing a global forum for dialogue.  The United Nations is its natural home, and I look forward to working with you to make the most of next year’s event.

In closing, our debate today would be incomplete without a few words on the burning of a Koran in Florida.

That incident and its aftermath may seem to have little to do with the rule of law.

But it does.  Respect for the rule of law implies respect for human rights and tolerance of human differences — especially as they relate to things so fundamental as differences of culture and religion.

When people deliberately desecrate another’s holy book, they may be exercising their right to freedom of expression but they are also giving voice to hatred and intolerance.

I condemn such acts.  Rule of law — the very foundation of civilization — is grounded in respect and mutual understanding, not the demonization of “the other”.

In the same vein, those who respond to hate speech with violence must also be condemned.  The killing of innocent people can never be justified, no matter what the provocation.

We will see more such inflammatory acts.  But let us recognize:  human beings must coexist if we are to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future.

Let us make the rule of law a reality for all.

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