Rule of Law Critical to Success of ‘Ambitious and Inspirational’ Development Agenda, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Governance Meeting

9 April 2014

Rule of Law Critical to Success of ‘Ambitious and Inspirational’ Development Agenda, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Governance Meeting

9 April 2014
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Rule of Law Critical to Success of ‘Ambitious and Inspirational’ Development


Agenda, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Governance Meeting


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., 9 April:

I thank the Center for Strategic and International Studies for their initiative in hosting this discussion and debate.

I would like to explore some fundamental shifts that are happening in the international development agenda and focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the rule of law.

In the year 2000, world leaders agreed on an historic 15-year blueprint to address poverty.  Since their creation following the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have made a large difference at both the national and global levels.

They have helped to set global and national priorities and fuel action on the ground.  By putting human beings and their immediate needs as the core objective of public policy, the MDGs have reshaped decision-making in developed and developing countries alike.

MDGs have raised awareness and shaped a vision that is global. They have enabled the creation of a global movement that encompasses member states, civil society, private sector and individuals the world over.

In the last decade, great progress has been made towards achieving the MDGs.  As a result, the lives of billions have improved.  The poverty reduction target has been met and extreme poverty continues to decline in every developing region, including in sub-Saharan Africa.

The target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved water sources has also been met.  Conditions for more than 200 million people living in slums have been ameliorated; double the 2020 target.  Primary school enrolment of girls equalled that of boys.

We have seen accelerating progress in reducing child and maternal mortality.  Conservation action is slowing the rate at which species are moving towards extinction.

Until 2010, aid had been steadily increasing for more than a decade.  Now, substantial debt relief has reduced the burden of debt service in many of the poorest countries.  New technologies, scientific advances and innovative partnerships have contributed to MDG progress.

Much remains to be done.  Projections indicate that in 2015 almost 1 billion people will be living in extreme poverty, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases.  Hunger remains a global challenge, and ensuring that all children are able to complete primary education remains a fundamental, but unfulfilled, target that has an impact on all the other goals.

Lack of universal access to drinking water and safe sanitation is hampering progress in health and nutrition, biodiversity loss continues apace, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to pose a major threat to people and ecosystems.  Climate change is now a reality, and it affects us all.  The goal of gender equality also remains unfulfilled.  Progress within countries and regions remains uneven.

As the work to reach the Millennium Development Goals approaches its deadline, there is growing understanding that the world has changed dramatically over the past two decades — in terms of the geopolitical constellations; the shifting centre of gravity in the global economy; the progress made in addressing absolute poverty as well as the changes in its incidence and distribution, both nationally and globally.

The post-2015 agenda must reflect these changes, but it must also be framed by the core mandates of the UN.  These are, or should be, the motivating principles of the post-2015 framework and the foundation of its objectives.  This aspect was neglected in the design of the MDG framework and underplayed in the subsequent focus on the practicalities of achieving the MDGs over the past 13 years.

The cornerstone of the UN’s various mandates is human rights in all their dimensions, implemented and protected through strong rule of law institutions.  The strengthening of rule of law institutions, and with that, human rights, should be the fundamental objective of the post-2015 framework at the global level.

The protection and enjoyment of human rights should also serve as the guiding principle for Member States’ efforts to achieve inclusive economic development, social justice and environmental sustainability.

In September 2012, at the General Assemblies first-ever High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, 193 Member States united around the idea that development and the rule of law are mutually reinforcing.  Since then, the principle has been reiterated by Member States, the Secretary-General and many others in the international community.

The rule of law and strong institutions are now one of the focal areas which Member States are discussing as part of their work on developing this important agenda.

Justice and the rule of law are themselves goals of development, but they are also essential to the achievement of many other development outcomes.

The rule of law helps in the establishment of a functioning regulatory system that fosters equitable private sector growth, a primary driver of sustainable development.

The rule of law ensures executive accountability and assists in making available basic services for all, such as education, health and sanitation.

The rule of law empowers citizens to address underlying causes of inequality and exclusion, one of the principle fault lines identified in the MDGs.

We must therefore do more to ensure that robust legal frameworks are in place to support the full range of development outcomes, from health and the sustainable management of natural resources to women’s empowerment and non-discrimination. 

Responsive and strong institutions are critical to development.  Institutions anchor legal frameworks, delivering justice and supporting sustainable development. 

Strong rule of law institutions combat corruption which distorts markets and hinders sustainable development.

Fighting corruption is important to both business and communities.  $1,000 billion are paid in bribes per year.

In 2012, 50 per cent of Afghan citizens paid a bribe when requesting a public service, and on average those from key rule of law institutions received the highest bribe.  The result is that many ordinary citizens in Afghanistan cannot afford access to the justice system.

Accessible justice institutions ensure that even the most vulnerable individuals and communities can obtain redress when wrongs are committed.  When this happens, they feel safe and are able to invest in their community and country.

Women frequently face barriers to accessing justice, both structural and cultural.  When we empower women to claim their rights, they are better equipped to bring about change in their communities and realize their potential to be equal partners in decision-making and development.

Institutions must be accountable to the law and to people, and foster public confidence.  Transparent institutions that operate in accordance with the rule of law create political stability and promote inclusive economic growth.

Of course, for people to have access to institutions and to benefit from fair legal frameworks, legal identity is a first step.

Nearly 230 million children under the age of five have not had their births registered.  In Yemen, for example, 83 per cent of children under the age of 5 have no legal identity.  They are at risk of exclusion and exploitation.  Many have difficulty accessing basic health and education services.  Governments are hampered in planning for the needs of their citizens.

Our future development agenda should be ambitious and inspirational.  It should have sustainable development at its core, with poverty reduction as its priority.  And the rule of law clearly deserves a place on this agenda. 

On a broader level, perhaps I could turn to some of the other big and contemporary issues that face the UN — not least currently in Russia and the Ukraine.


·         Both the SG (Secretary-General) and I are playing key roles in front of and behind the scenes in trying to resolve this crisis;

·         [There’s] increasing volatility, as people turn away from Government they believe can’t deliver and take refuge in identity politics, language and religion.  All of this on display in Ukraine;

·         As you know [the] SG has travelled to Moscow and Kiev.  [He is] in close and contact touch with key players also in the European Union and the United States;

·         [We] take our lead from the United Nations General Assembly, [noting the] significance of territorial integrity;

·         [There is] importance of safeguarding the rights of minorities, whether they be Tartars in Crimea or Russians in eastern Ukraine;

·         [It is] vital to ensure that eastern provinces of Ukraine are not drawn further into the crisis;

·         [There is a] need for cool heads and calm discussions to resolve this crisis;

·         [There is] the growth of nationalism in the wake of the collapse of monolithic state communism, beginning with the break-up of Yugoslavia, continuing with [the] modern day situation in Ukraine;

·         [There is a] wider issue of increased popular discontent with the Government — increased vulnerability of the Government to mass popular protest.


·         Civil war has now entered its fourth year (15 March);

·         Currently the most serious and complicated of global conflicts;

·         Death toll now well beyond 100,000;

·         One out of three Syrians needs urgent humanitarian assistance;

·         An estimated 4 million Syrians have been internally displaced;

·         There are 2.5 million refugees;

·         [The] joint OPCW-UN (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations) mission [is] working to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and programmes;

·         Talks between the Government and opposition took place Geneva but have yet to produce concrete results.  [It] will be a long, hard process but this is the only hope for a political situation;

·         [It is] vital that the world is not distracted from the situation in Syria by what is happening in Ukraine;

·         Ukraine should not become a reason for disengagement by Russia or the United States over Syria;

·         For those Member States engaged in abusing civilians who continue to argue that sovereignty is so important that it must override R2P [the responsibility to protect] the answer is:  “if sovereignty is so important, shouldn’t you be protecting your own people?”.

“Track II diplomacy” doesn’t have the same implications for sovereignty, which is why the role played by the elders or NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can be of such consequence.  Track II diplomacy is a specific kind of informal diplomacy, in which non-officials, academic scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, and social activists engage in dialogue, with the aim of conflict resolution, or confidence-building.  This sort of diplomacy is especially useful after events which can be interpreted in a number of different ways, both parties recognize this fact, and neither side wants to escalate or involve third parties for fear of the situation spiraling out of control.

Working for conflict resolution begins with as much diplomacy as possible.  In the case of Syria, it begins with confidence-building measures, humanitarian access, local ceasefires, prisoner exchange, release of civilians, et cetera.

Russia, the United States, Turkey, [and] Iran all [are] crucial to an eventual solution in Syria.

South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sahel Region

[There have been] some gains in South Sudan, but they are fragile and we must guard against reversals.  Tens of thousands (between 70-80,000) of people are alive today because the UN opened the gates of its peacekeeping bases.

April 7th marked the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. We cannot allow this to happen again in countries such as the Central African Republic.  A volatile situation in the Central African Republic [is] constantly monitored by the UN.  Member States have to help meet the challenge of finding the resources for robust peacekeeping.  [There will be an] introduction of MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) next week.

[A] strengthened MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and [an] intervention brigade have made possible enormous gains in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including surrender of M23 (Mouvement du 23 mars).  [The] challenge now is to sustain momentum, help [the] State re-establish itself and meet the threat posed by other armed groups still operating in the area.

Countries in the Sahel have faced successive political and humanitarian crises for years.  The situation is exacerbated by recurring conflicts, limited delivery of basic services and poor protection of human rights.  We need to help build resilience to future shocks.

All these developments show why it is so crucial that African States and institutions, such as the African Union and regional organizations, continue to strengthen their leadership efforts.  And it shows the need for integrated approaches combining security, development and human rights.

Global political landscape is changing fundamentally geopolitically, socioeconomically, demographically and technologically.  Institutions of government and the UN are at risk of not keeping pace with change.

Governments have not fully come to terms with the ways in which the ground has shifted beneath their feet.

[The] UN needs to find ways to help its Member States adapt to these trends.

World Population

World population is also increasing dramatically, but the politics of family planning remain fraught while the best known solution — girls’ education — is also not easily achieved.

[There is] rapid urbanization (60 per cent of the world’s population by 2030). 

Migration — more people [are] on the move than ever before.  Half the world is under 25 years of age — [the] largest generation of young people in history. One billion people are living in countries they weren’t born in.

Climate change, environmental degradation, increasing frequency and scale of disasters are an enormous strain on already fragile economies and vulnerable people.

When it comes to the climate, you may have a Plan B but there is no Planet B.

[There have been] huge advances in global connectivity:  Facebook, Twitter, iPhones.  Information technology of even 20 years ago feels like the Middle Ages. 

A good international solution is today a good national solution.

Positioning of the UN

Some key questions for us at the UN [are]:  how does [the] UN help Member States adapt to a world in which power and wealth are no longer predominantly in their hands?

How can the UN exercise leadership so that decision-makers take a longer term view and are prepared to co-operate?

How can the UN be seen as a credible institution that is worthy of popular trust?

Climate Change

The Secretary-General’s Climate Summit will be held in New York on September 23rd.  This is a Summit that will be focussed on garnering real international support for solutions.  The Secretary-General has just returned from a visit to Greenland, where he was able to see that while there are mixed local opportunities that will come from climate change, the global effects of major ice-melt in Greenland are potentially enormous.

Rule of Law

The rule of law is essential to our work in peace and security.  At the international level, the UN Charter provides the basis for peaceful international relations.  At the national level, a functioning criminal justice chain, backed by strong institutions, is key to stabilisation and peace in the aftermath of conflict.

The rule of law also has a foundational relationship with human rights.  For the Secretary-General, the very definition of the rule of law incorporates and is consistent with human rights norms and standards, including equality under the law and accountability before the law.

We must use the rule of law to strengthen and protect our human rights framework internationally.

For instance:

R2P and Rights up Front

R2P is a constant that has come to stay.

Our “Rights up Front” action plan aims to see the UN act earlier in the face of major human rights abuses.  We have begun to apply some of the Rights Up Front mechanisms in the cases of South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Rights up Front is aimed at enabling the UN to respond much better to the risk of massive and widespread human rights violations in some of the countries where we work.

We need to do more to help Member States prevent large-scale violations.

Our ambition is to identify risks earlier and to bring them to the attention of national and regional authorities before there is a need for other action.  “Prevention” is a goal that Member States have repeatedly emphasized — there is broad political support.

Advancing accountability and fighting impunity for serious international crimes, through the work of the International Criminal Court, tribunals and special courts, and through implementing R2P, the “responsibility to protect”.

We must also tackle violence against women.

Efforts [must be made] to promote mutual respect, tolerance and understanding in a time of polarization and ethnic and religious tensions around the world.

Looking Forward

Our challenge is to show that good international solutions are in the national interest.

Whether we like it or not, the United Nations is a mirror, a reflection of the world as it is.  On the other hand, the United Nations is a reflection of the world as it should be.  Our challenge is to change that picture.

From the challenges of climate change and sustainable development — to peace and security tests in every corner of the world — young people are a crucial part of the solution.

See yourself as more than just a part of your school, your community or even your country.  Be a global citizen. 

Thank you once again for being here and for your leadership and voice.  Keep it up — for your future and our world.  Thank you.

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