UN Efforts to Establish Rule of Law May Not Grab Media Spotlight, but They Deserve Support, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Committee for United States Courts

6 June 2012

UN Efforts to Establish Rule of Law May Not Grab Media Spotlight, but They Deserve Support, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Committee for United States Courts

6 June 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

UN Efforts to Establish Rule of Law May Not Grab Media Spotlight, but They Deserve


Support, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Committee for United States Courts


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to members of the International Judicial Relations Committee for the United States Courts, in New York, 6 June:

I am honoured and pleased to be here with such an eminent group of jurists.  I spent much of my career as a practicing lawyer and law professor before going into public service.  As foreign minister of Tanzania and now as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, I still view the world through a legal lens.

The United Nations owes a great deal to the United States.  United States diplomats and jurors led efforts to draft the United Nations Charter in the 1940s.  And they generated domestic support for the United Nations under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.  This proud history has only increased over the years, with United States judges serving on United Nations courts and tribunals, and United States attorneys working as senior legal officials across the United Nations system.  We are deeply grateful for this commitment and service.

The United States well understands that delivering justice is critical to peace, human rights and development.  These are the pillars of the United Nations. Helping to establish the rule of law is fundamental to all three.

The United Nations has an unparalleled record of developing and codifying international law.  And we do more than elaborate — we help countries to enact and observe these laws.  One of the most notable developments has been our success in holding perpetrators of war crimes to account.  Our tribunals and courts are getting justice for victims, putting criminals behind bars, and serving notice to others they will pay for their crimes.

We are rightly getting headlines, for example in the case of Charles Taylor, who was recently sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in the atrocities committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

Our daily efforts to establish the rule of law may not grab the media spotlight but they do deserve support and attention.  Around the world, the United Nations trains police where they have lost public trust, assists communities recovering from crises, and helps developing countries to build stronger legal institutions.

In 2005, when the United Nations celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, world leaders came together and unanimously called for renewed international focus on this important work.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also raised the profile of rule of law issues across the United Nations system.  I chair a group that brings together different United Nations departments and agencies carrying out related work — from attorneys at Headquarters to operational agencies deployed in the field.

The United Nations is carrying out activities across the spectrum, helping countries to draft constitutions, assisting people who are stateless, supporting justice during democratic transitions and more.  To give you a sense of the scope, the United Nations is helping about 150 countries to establish the rule of law.  In many of those States, we have five agencies joining forces for this goal.

Afghanistan is a good example.  Here is a country crying out for the rule of law.  The Afghan people desperately deserve a society where laws are obeyed and authorities are trusted.  The United Nations mission there supported the establishment of the Afghan Independent Bar Association and a new Legal Aid Department within the Ministry of Justice.  These are just some of its projects to help Afghanistan establish a credible justice system.

Alongside these efforts, UN-Women is working for Afghanistan’s women and girls who have suffered terrible discrimination for far too long.  Promoting gender-responsive security sector reform may not sound dramatic — but it is.  When uniformed personnel respect women, that will make an enormous difference for Afghanistan and its future.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are also doing critical work to help the Afghan people cope with poverty and the opium trade.  The United Nations is taking this coordinated approach around the world.  We are doing this through our peacekeeping operations and development agencies in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire.  And in countries like Burundi, Nepal, Colombia and Uganda, we are bringing our expertise to communities that want and need assistance.

But the reality is our activities make up only a small proportion of global rule of law assistance.  Most programmes are bilateral.  And that gives rise to inefficient and even conflicting efforts.  That is why we are advocating more consistent, joint multilateral approaches that produce better results.  We have to speak with one voice.  That means bringing our partners together for the same cause.  The United Nations is collaborating more and more with experts from our member countries.  We are looking for the advice that comes from experience.

This year, we have a chance to accelerate our drive to deliver justice globally.  During the most important week at the United Nations — when Presidents and Prime Ministers from around the world come to our Headquarters — we will hold a high-level meeting on the rule of law.  This is a reflection of the world’s growing confidence that delivering justice is essential to securing human rights.  At our historic meeting in September, Governments will come to focus our priorities, to explore fresh ideas and to set us on course to a strong future. 

To help guide their discussions, the Secretary-General has produced an important report on delivering justice.  It presents a programme of action to strengthen the rule of law nationally and internationally over the coming years.  The report includes proposals to strengthen international dispute resolution and international adjudicative mechanisms, including the International Court of Justice.  It suggests integrating the rule of law into our future goals for development, as we near the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals and begin to discuss the development agenda for the years beyond.  And the report invites countries to set up a Consultative Forum that would be open to experts from across the spectrum, including leaders in business, civil society, academia and even philanthropists.  My hope is that experts like you would be supportive.

The report also suggests that Member States make individual pledges at the high-level meeting on how they can strengthen the rule of law.  I am hoping that many countries will come forward to set goals that match the challenges they face.

Although it has been a while since my days as a young Legal Aid attorney, that formative experience still guides me.  The people who came to our office in Dar es Salaam depended on us to right the injustices they suffered.  Many were women and all were poor.  I gained a profound respect for the law by seeing how it could change the circumstances in an individual’s life and rescue whole families from despair. 

At the United Nations, we push to deliver justice through intergovernmental meetings, but the point is to hold Governments to their promises to people.  I know you share my appreciation of the value of the law and I look forward to our interaction this afternoon.

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