Deputy Secretary-General, Addressing Sixth Committee, Says United Nations Has Comparative Advantage in Providing Rule-of-Law Assistance to Member States

11 October 2012

Deputy Secretary-General, Addressing Sixth Committee, Says United Nations Has Comparative Advantage in Providing Rule-of-Law Assistance to Member States

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

Deputy Secretary-General, Addressing Sixth Committee, Says United Nations Has

Comparative Advantage in Providing Rule-of-Law Assistance to Member States

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks to the Sixth Committee (Legal) on “The Rule of Law at the National and International Levels”, in New York on 10 October:

Let me first congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your election.  I also extend my best wishes to the other members of the Bureau of the Sixth Committee as they assume their new duties.  I am glad to make my first presentation to the General Assembly this fall in this distinguished Committee.  I am particularly pleased to be with you after last month’s important and successful high-level meeting on the rule of law on 24 September.

The Secretary-General and I were impressed by the strong participation and engagement by Member States at very high levels, as well as by the comprehensive, yet concise, Declaration that was adopted by consensus.  I am confident that we now have a process in place for application of the rule of law in all three pillars of the United Nations — peace and security, development and human rights.

The Secretary-General and I are also welcoming the numerous pledges made at the high-level meeting, and the call in the Declaration for States to consider making further pledges to promote and strengthen the rule of law.  We will be working with these States to consider how the United Nations can best serve them in fulfilling their pledges.

The acknowledgment of the growing importance of the rule of law was echoed in many statements throughout the general debate.  It was also reflected in the theme chosen by the President of the General Assembly for the new session – as you know, he called for “the adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means”.

The United Nations engagement in the rule of law at the international level is rooted in the recognition that an effective multilateral system, based on the Charter and on international law, is essential to addressing global threats and challenges.  The International Court of Justice (ICJ) plays a particularly important role.  It is the only judicial forum to which Member States can bring virtually any legal dispute concerning international law, as you all know.  No other forum’s jurisdiction is as far-reaching.  Yet the Court is only competent to hear a case if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction.  This year the Secretary-General began a campaign to encourage States which have not done so to accede to the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and ensure that the Court can play this larger role.

The work of the international criminal tribunals is also crucial to our efforts at strengthening the rule of law at the international level.  The conviction of Charles Taylor last year was a milestone in our efforts to usher in an age of accountability.  This conviction sends a strong signal that impunity for the worst crimes, committed on any level, can no longer prevail.  Another landmark was the first verdict by the International Criminal Court in the Thomas Lubanga case.  The Court will now consider the issue of reparations for the victims.  This is the first time the Court exercises this innovative part of its mandate, and a critical element in transitional justice.

We know that international tribunals and courts can assist when a State is unable or unwilling to conduct its own investigations and prosecutions.  The primary responsibility to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights rests of course with you, Member States.  However, the United Nations is there to assist and support in their efforts to do so.

The international community must also find effective ways to support Member States in meeting their peoples’ increasing claims for justice and rule of law.  Newly constituted Governments are looking to the United Nations for advice and assistance in constitution-making processes, reforming justice and security institutions and dealing with legacies of atrocities.

The annual report of the Secretary-General on United Nations rule-of-law activities provides an overview of the extensive efforts by the United Nations to meet these and other requests for assistance, and to strengthen the rule of law at the international and national levels.  The United Nations is providing rule-of-law assistance in over 150 Member States.  These activities take place in several contexts, including development, conflict, post-conflict and peacebuilding situations, including 17 peace operations with rule-of-law mandates.

Three or more United Nations entities engage in rule-of-law activities in at least 70 countries, and five or more entities in over 25 countries.  In Somalia, for example, following United Nations assistance with the constitution-making process, a draft constitution was presented in July to the National Constituent Assembly.  In Timor-Leste, the United Nations supported the establishment of the first land registry system.  And this year’s report of the Secretary-General will provide many more examples of the richness of our work.

The United Nations has a comparative advantage in providing this assistance.  We have a broad range of experience dating back many years.  The United Nations brings neutrality and the weight of the international community in the work.  We are also using our convening power to advance the issues and the debate.  Now looking forward, we need to strengthen the linkages between rule of law and all three pillars of the United Nations mission.  This is part of the result of the Declaration of the high-level meeting, and the Secretary-General has been asked to propose ways and means of doing so.  Let me present some initial observations.

First, linkages with post-conflict and peace and security.  Providing effective rule-of-law institutions is the basis of the social contract and key to the security and social and economic health of a State.  It is especially critical in post-conflict States where the rule of law provides the institutional and normative framework for delivering security, and for strengthening resilience to shocks, preventing relapses into conflict and preventing cycles of fragility.

Secondly, linkages with development and the post-2015 development agenda.  The rule of law is also key to development.  The linkages are broad and cross-cutting.  The sanctity of contracts must be guaranteed, and the legal frameworks necessary for commerce and international trade need to be in place.  Independent courts boost investor confidence; labour safeguards protect the labour force.  Environmental regulations safeguard the long-term interests of both businesses and people.  The connection is clear and these linkages must be further developed and taken into account, in my view, particularly in the post-2015 development framework.

Thirdly, linkages with fundamental rights.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights opened her address to the high-level meeting last month by stressing that the rule of law is fundamental to the protection of human rights.  I could not agree more.  International human rights obligations must usually be ratified through parliaments and national laws promulgated.  Once the laws are in place, rights holders should have access to independent courts, and in many cases, national human rights commissions in order to enforce these rights.  The enjoyment of human rights for everybody can only be guaranteed through strong rule of law.

In closing, since the 2005 World Summit, the United Nations has made considerable progress towards greater coherence and coordination of its rule-of-law activities.  Institutional arrangements, including the establishment of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group in the Secretariat, which I chair, have helped us to achieve a clearer policy framework.

Strengthened arrangements are being put in place to further improve United Nations service delivery in the field, in particular.  These include a joint global focal point arrangement to support conflict and post-conflict countries in strengthening police, justice and corrections systems.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Development Programme will lead this process.

The Secretary-General and I want to thank Member States for their continuing support for the application of rule of law.  We are pleased that rule of law is featured more and more prominently in your work.  As a universal organization with unique legitimacy, the United Nations is the natural home for this vital work.  And we hope that our latest report will help this Committee to continue its important role in focusing international and national attention on the importance of the rule of law.

I wish you, Mr. Chairman, and your Committee, interesting and fruitful deliberations, and thank you for your attention.

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