Principle at Core of Sustainable Development General Assembly President Says, Urging Expanded Access to Justice
The undermining of independent judiciaries, along with other trends impacting access to justice, has been increasing around the world, a top United Nations official warned, as the Sixth Committee (Legal) took up the matter of the rule of law at the national and international levels today.
Fabrizio Hochschild-Drumond, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities (document A/73/253), highlighted troubling global trends impacting the principle’s standing. Those included the undermining of an independent judiciary and the politicized selection process of judges, and limitations on courts to review the constitutionality of executive decisions. Underlying circumstances such as mass displacement have enabled violence against women to occur, a regressive stance by some Member States to dial back advances on women’s rights.
As a result, United Nations rule of law assistance to Member States is now more pertinent than ever, he stressed, noting that the Secretary-General’s report highlighted progress made in several countries that had requested such assistance from the Organization. He spotlighted the advances made in Afghanistan, Haiti and Somalia, all of which had made strides in their efforts to gain independent justice institutions. Similarly, in Colombia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, transitional justice initiatives had been introduced to strengthen domestic justice systems.
The representative of Costa Rica, echoing the words of the Assistant Secretary-General, also lamented the politicized selection process of judges around the world, as well as the limitations on courts’ ability to review executive decisions. Institutional structures needed to act consistently with the rule of law before development could take place, she pointed out. To counter this, States should take advantage of the United Nations’ rule of law assistance.
El Salvador’s delegate also emphasized the importance of a depoliticized approach to the selection of judges and magistrates. He spotlighted how his Government is enabling the participation of citizens and interested parties to the process of interviewing and vetting candidates for positions on the bench. El Salvador’s public servants are delegates of the people and are responsible for abiding by the Constitution, regardless of their positions, he underscored.
The representative of Gabon echoed those words, noting that her country had initiated an awareness programme so that its people have a better understanding of the judicial system. Her Government is also continuing to implement profound reforms in the justice sector — including budgetary increases and increased training for staff — that aim to revitalize the judicial apparatus and ensure its independence, she said.
Rwanda’s delegate, expressing his country’s support for United Nations efforts to strengthen countries’ national ownership of judicial reform initiatives, described the aftermath of the country’s 1994 genocide as such an example. “We sought to balance the strict application of the punitive provisions of the law with restorative alternatives,” he stated. The home-grown, nationally owned solution has served Rwanda better than any other system, he emphasized.
The representative of Colombia also highlighted the individual realities of his country in its continuing efforts to re-establish peace and the right of victims to truth and reparations. His Government was alive to the challenges it faced, he noted, and that was fuelling its commitment to uphold the rule of law and ensure the primacy of justice. His country system is rules-based, democratic, participative and pluralist and solid institutions are what ensures these are not mere words, he declared.
In a similar vein, the delegate of the United Republic of Tanzania said that his country has been working to ensure that all aspects of the justice system can be easily accessed by its people. The Government uses mobile courts to provide access to people who lack access to physical courts and judicial officers, bringing judicial services closer to people, including the poor, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups.
Iraq’s delegate – recalling that his country is the cradle of civilization and the place where writing began – also described his country’s national efforts and commitment to the promotion of the rule of law. That strict adherence to the principle was reflected in the peaceful transfer of power, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary, as well as efforts to develop investment law to attract trade and investments.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the General Assembly, also addressed the Sixth Committee, highlighting several of the subjects at the heart of its deliberations during the current session, including the rule of law. That principle is at the very core of the Organization and sustainable development cannot be achieved in its absence, she observed. There was also a need to expand access to justice at all levels. Legal and judicial options should be accessible to the billions of people represented by the United Nations and its work must respond to their needs and interests, she emphasized.
Also speaking today were representatives of Iran (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Gambia (for the African Group), Cambodia (for the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Denmark (for the Nordic countries), Canada (also for Australia and New Zealand), Austria, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Japan, Slovenia, Sudan, Syria, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Netherlands, Mauritius, Cuba, Thailand, Lebanon, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Togo, Mexico, Uruguay, Ukraine, Israel, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ghana and Argentina, as well as the European Union.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 October, to continue consideration of the rule of law.
Introduction of Report
FABRIZIO HOCHSCHILD, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, “Strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities” (document A/73/253). He pointed to troubling negative trends in all parts of the world, such as the undermining of the independence of the judiciary, politicized selection process of judges, and limitations on courts to review the constitutionality of executive decisions. In addition, there has been increasing use of digital surveillance without adequate legal basis. Such violations are often taken in the name of national security and counter-terrorism, but where such efforts are not rooted in the rule of law, they can be counter-productive. Although some Member States have taken steps to pursue accountability through domestic efforts, in too many such efforts progress has been slow, compounded by a lack of political will.
Underlying circumstances such as mass displacement have enabled violence against women to occur, a regressive stance by some Member States to dial back advances on women’s rights, he continued. Adding to that are instances of incitement of gender-based violence, often by senior officials, as well as a lack of real commitments by some Governments to address corruption in public administration. There have also been attempts to undermine international justice mechanisms, he noted, underscoring that such instruments remain essential to harmonize international relations and to promote a rules-based rather than power-based international order.
In light of these trends, United Nations rule of law assistance to Member States is more pertinent than ever and are essential to addressing the root causes of conflict and crises, he stressed. The report documents United Nations rule of law assistance examples, always undertaken at the request of the State concerned. Among other countries, there has been important progress in Afghanistan, Haiti and Somalia in their efforts to secure independent justice institutions. In Colombia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, there have been initiatives on transitional justice to strengthen justice systems domestically. In Jordan and Lebanon, the influx of refugees has led to tensions with host communities. States are working with the United Nations to access justice for all sectors of society, including refugees. The Organization has been actively preparing to meet any challenges, and this entails improving the coordination and effectiveness of United Nations support.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Charter of the United Nations provides normative guidance on the principle of rule of law at the international level. All States should equally respect and comply with their obligations under treaties as well as customary international law, he said, expressing concern about the application of unilateral measures and their negative impact on international relations. Further, Member States must fully respect the functions and powers of each principal organ of the United Nations, particularly the General Assembly, and maintain balance among these organs, he added, reiterating concern over the continuing encroachment by the Security Council on the functions and powers of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.
Emphasizing the importance of national ownership in rule of law activities, he said it is necessary to consider the customs and national socioeconomic realities to prevent imposing pre-established models upon Member States. “There is no single agreed definition of the rule of law,” he observed. That fact should be taken into account when preparing reports, collecting, classifying and evaluating the quality of data on issues related to rule of law. The data-gathering activities of United Nations bodies must not lead to a unilateral formulation of rule of law indicators and ranking of countries in any manner. Also condemning any attempt to destabilize the democratic and constitutional order of any Non-Aligned Movement State, he reaffirmed the significance of according Palestine the status of non-member observer State in the United Nations.
AMADOU JAITEH (Gambia), speaking for the African Group and associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed regret that the Sixth Committee had been unable to conclude on a sub-topic for this session’s debate on the agenda item. He therefore welcomed the Secretary-General’s inclusion of sub-topics in the report; that might assist the Committee in the future. The dissemination of international law is one of the best options to strengthen the rule of law at the international level. This process can take place both through bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Technological means can be instrumental to enhance the dissemination of international law, contributing to the strengthening of international peace and security and the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation among States.
The African Union Commission on International Law serves as an advisory organ of the Union, he continued. Its establishment was guided by the importance of accelerating the continent’s socio-economic development through the promotion of research in all fields. The Commission encourages the teaching, study, publication and dissemination of literature on international law - including the laws of the bloc - with a view to promoting acceptance and respect for the principles of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and respect for the Union. The Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization is also a good example of the dissemination of international law to strengthen the rule of law. Through the cooperation between two regions, views, experiences and information are exchanged. In that vein, the United Nations also promotes international law through its Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, which contributes actively to a better knowledge of international law.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia), speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said promotion of the rule of law must be undertaken in line with the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter. Utmost respect must be given to the principles of sovereignty, equality of States, territorial integrity and non‑interference in domestic affairs. Emphasizing that national perspectives should be at the centre of all rule-of-law activities, he said the United Nations should do more to support Member States with technical and capacity-building assistance, at the request of those States. In doing so, the Organization should ensure coordinated efforts between all parties involved, marked by transparency and accountability.
Strengthening and promoting the rule of law requires global approaches that avoid selectivity and double-standards in the application of international law, he said, underscoring ASEAN’s strong support for coherent and agreeable approaches that reduce inefficiencies and cut waste. Describing ASEAN as a rules-based intergovernmental organization, he drew attention to several treaties relevant to Southeast Asia and emphasized the efforts that ASEAN member States are making with China towards an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. He also noted that the new Sixth Committee agenda item titled “Strengthening and promoting the international treaty framework” should hopefully result in the General Assembly updating the regulations that give effect to Article 102 of the Charter.
ERIC CHABOUREAU, the European Union, said the bloc supports States’ use of international justice mechanisms, such as accepting compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice or through other international tribunals, to resolve inter-State disputes and promote a rules-based international legal order. Underscoring the importance of respect for human rights in the rule of law assistance, he encouraged Member States which still impose and implement death sentences to establish a moratorium with a view to abolishing the death penalty. The United Nations should also continue its efforts at the national and international levels to strengthen accountability for international crimes, he stressed, acknowledging the challenges of resources mobilization for international accountability mechanisms.
He also welcomed the use of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to help investigate and prosecute persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria since March 2011. Noting the Secretary-General’s view that it is not always appropriate to fund international accountability mechanisms through voluntary funding, he voiced his support for efforts to explore alternative funding arrangements for the Mechanism, including funding through the United Nations budget. As well, he welcomed the high priority the Secretary-General has placed on the rule of law; the Secretary-General’s Executive Office should continue bringing together partners across the United Nations that impact peace and security, human rights and development. The rule of law and sustainable development are strongly interrelated and mutually reinforcing and the European Union is carrying out practical measures within the European Union and beyond to strengthen the rule of law and related aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said.
IB PETERSEN (Denmark), also speaking for Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden, stressed the importance of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals and the element of “access to justice for all”. A justice system that does not work, or works poorly, decreases the credibility of a Government in the eyes of its citizens and may create parallel or alternative justice schemes. That, in turn, will erode the conditions needed for sustainable development, he noted, adding that the upcoming high-level political forum in 2019 will be an important opportunity to review that Goal and highlight its importance in addressing injustice, corruption, political exclusion and other drivers of conflict.
A State’s lack of will or inability to protect its population is a blatant failure to uphold its responsibility to protect, he continued, adding that Myanmar is an example of how important rule of law is and what happens when there is a basic lack thereof. Commending the Human Rights Council for establishing an independent mechanism to collect and analyse evidence of violations of international law in that country, he added that the International Criminal Court must continue its work independently and undeterred, firmly based on the jurisdiction conferred upon it in the Rome Statute. The work of the Court, the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures and the ad hoc mechanism on Syria are all essential to the agenda of rule of law. “Never has the work been more important,” he stressed
CATHERINE BOUCHER (Canada), speaking also for Australia and New Zealand, said the work of independent, professional and recognized international courts and tribunals is a cornerstone of the rules-based international order, expressing support for the work of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. She also welcomed – in the context of holding perpetrators to account – a recent decision by the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention) that condemned the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, Malaysia, Syria and United Kingdom and accorded a mandate to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for the use of such weapons in Syria. She also voiced her support for the Human Rights Council’s decision establishing the Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Myanmar.
For domestic stability, prosperity and social consensus to function within each State, it is critical that legal systems are based on transparency, equality, open access to justice and consistent, neutral, independent and non-arbitrary application of legal rules to individual cases, she said. Domestic rule-of-law frameworks are critical to the governance of international relations, peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance. She drew attention to capacity-building activities being undertaken by Canada, Australia and New Zealand, including in the fight against transnational crime. She also acknowledged the valuable work of the United Nations system to promote and advance the rule of law, saying Member States must recognize the International Law Commission’s contribution to the codification and development of international law.
NADIA KALB (Austria), associating herself with the European Union, voiced her regret that the Sixth Committee had not been able to answer the Secretary-General’s call last year for an open dialogue with Member States to reflect upon ways to strengthen the effectiveness, sustainability and coherence of the United Nations rule of law assistance across the three pillars of the Organization. She welcomed the Secretary-General’s report which contained frank assessments on where the United Nations and Member States can do better - including doing more to strengthen accountability for the most serious crimes at the national and international levels. More resources are necessary to achieve this goal. Accountability and the fight against impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are central to rebuilding post-conflict societies and ensuring lasting peace. Austria is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, she said, welcoming the recent activation of its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.
ALI AHMAD AL-MANSOURI (Qatar), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that countries that are weak in rule of law are more exposed to crises, which in turn affects peace and security at the regional and international levels. Rule of law will not prevail without respect for human dignity, he stressed, adding that relations between States should be governed by the principles of mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty. His country is complying with its international commitments to strengthen rule of law and its Government agencies operate with full respect for the principle and clear judicial frameworks based on international norms in place to protect the rights of citizens. The Constitution includes specific provisions for strengthening separation of powers and national legislation is in conformity with international agreements and treaties, he added.
SHARA DUNCAN (Costa Rica), stressing that institutional structures must act consistently with rule of law before development can take place, lamented the politicized selection process of judges around the world and the limitations on the ability of courts to review executive decisions. Spotlighting the United Nations’ rule of law assistance, she said that States must take advantage of the technical capacity afforded by the Organization to reverse such trends. Despite extraordinary improvement in social indicators, she stressed that climate change, the migration crisis and increasing conflicts call for a robust international rule of law framework. More so, countries where there is rule of law provide better living conditions for their people, she pointed out, adding that rule of law must extend beyond merely holding free and periodic elections. The principle calls for rotation of power, freedom to protest and gender equity.
SINA ALAVI (Liechtenstein) highlighted the importance of the recent activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. “At a time when the rules-based international order as such is under attack, support for the International Criminal Court becomes even more significant,” he stressed. While the Court is the central institution in ensuring justice for the most serious crimes under international law, national judiciaries retain primary jurisdiction according to the principle of complementarity. Moreover, the creation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for the most serious crimes committed in Syria is a stark illustration of the General Assembly’s potential to play a productive role. He welcomed the establishment of a similar accountability mechanism for Myanmar. In that case, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor has established limited jurisdiction; it will serve as an important test case for how such accountability mechanisms can co-exist and cooperate with the Court. Such mechanisms should be funded from the Organization’s regular budget, as was decided in the case of Myanmar. His delegation will continue to work with like-minded States and the Secretary-General to ensure regular budget funding for the Syria Mechanism, he said.
ANNETTE ONANGA (Gabon), associating herself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that current global problems - such as climate change, mass displacement of populations, conflict, poverty and the political changes resulting from those events - underscore the universal nature of the rule of law as a fundamental principle that should guide the life of nations. There is no single model for strengthening the rule of law; instead there is a need for an ongoing dialogue that allows for ownership at the national level. Her Government is deeply committed to the principle at the national and international level, a commitment that is reflected in Gabon’s basic law and in its commitment to cultivate peace and justice at the national level. Gabon continues to work on strengthening its institutions through profound reforms in the justice sector that seek to revitalize the judicial apparatus and ensure its independence. Those reforms include budgetary increases and increased training for staff. A targeted awareness program has also been implemented to ensure that the population has a better understanding of the judicial system and can better access justice.
HARUKA SAWADA (Japan) called international judicial organs crucial in ensuring the rule of international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes. As such, his Government attaches great importance to them, proving financial support and highly qualified judges. Also highlighting the role of the United Nations in promoting and universalizing the rule of law, he welcomed the active discussions held at the International Law Commission this year and the ability for Sixth Committee delegates to observe those discussions. Japan undertakes activities to support the rule of law such as coordinating with the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization to promote discussion on the topic and is honoured to be hosting the fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in April 2020 in Kyoto, he said.
DARJA BAVDAZ-KURET (Slovenia), associating herself with the European Union, said that the Secretary-General’s report attests to the instrumental contribution made by the United Nations to strengthening the rule of law at the national level. In her country, equal opportunities with a special focus on gender equality were set as a thematic priority of development cooperation in the new resolution on international development cooperation adopted in 2017. This focus will increase the already extensive emphasis on gender equality in her country’s bilateral cooperation efforts. In light of the geographical priorities of the Slovene development cooperation, it is currently promoting women’s empowerment in the Western Balkans, Middle East and Africa. The Government is also contributing to armed violence reduction around the world and is celebrating 20 years of the operation of the Government-led non-profit organization ITF Enhancing Human Security, whose mission is to enhance safety and enable the recovery and development of conflict-affected countries by addressing the impact of mines and other hazards following armed violence.
OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that national legislation in his country has been streamlined to adhere with international standards. Noting that the Secretary-General’s report focused on rule of law at the national level, but highlighted very few points at the international level, he commended the draft law tabled at the General Assembly by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Turning to the matter of the death penalty, he added that the implementation of that is a sovereign matter, derived culturally. No culture is entitled to impose itself on other cultures, he stressed, also calling on Member States to support the International Court of Justice as the main judicial system of the United Nations. He also expressed concern about the relationship between the Organization and the International Criminal Court, condemning double standards and attempts to impose that Court’s activities on the Organization.
AMMAR AL ARSAN (Syria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the plans, programmes, and reports on rule of law should not remain dead letters on the page. At the international level, it must include the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, combating terrorism, ending occupation and putting an end to unilateral coercive measures. The primary challenge to rule of law on an international level is due to the selective practices and double standards of some donor States who politicized humanitarian concepts, he said, expressing doubts about the professionalism and impartiality of the Organization. Further, the General Assembly exceeded its prerogative when it established the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria; it is illegal for the United Nations to dedicate its regular budget to finance the Mechanism. How can anyone still argue that the Mechanism is anything other than a legal and moral scandal, he put forth, calling on the United Nations to maintain its credibility.
YOUNGHYO PARK (Republic of Korea) said international law is the cornerstone of world order and the bedrock for the lawful governance of global affairs. Underscoring the importance of inclusiveness in international legal discourse, he said the rule of law must not be used to exclude any specific country or region. Instead the principle must serve to further dialogue, engagement and cooperation. In-depth discussions in the Sixth Committee that reflect the systems, traditions, practice and perspectives of each nation and region would make international law more effective, he said, also underlining the need to undertake continued efforts to improve the body’s working methods and efficiency. Defining the appropriate scope and timeline of the Committee’s work is critical, as is striving to better reflect each Member State’s view and tackling newer fields - such as international humanitarian law, environmental law and trade. That would strike a better balance between traditional concerns and diverse emerging demands. He also voiced support for the International Criminal Court and efforts to promote the rule of law at both the international and national levels.
RUBEN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBUN (El Salvador), noting that 2018 commemorates the twenty-sixth anniversary of his country’s peace agreement, said that accord was won through dialogue and built through consensus. His country’s public servants are delegates of the people and are responsible for abiding by the Constitution, regardless of their positions. His Government has instituted measures, including investigations into assets of current and former public officials, which are carried out by the Probity Unit of the Supreme Court of Justice. Civil and criminal proceedings have been brought against former presidents and officials. El Salvador also has a tribunal for Government ethics empowered to institute proceedings leading to sanctions for violations of professional conduct. Transparency and access to public information are prerequisites for the full effect of the rule of law. The law on public information ensures that Salvadorians who request information from State bodies receive that information. His Government has also strengthened citizen participation through citizen assemblies and thematic committees with representation from a broad swathe of sectors. When selecting more magistrates and judges, El Salvador has enabled the participation of citizens and interested parties to the process of interviewing and vetting candidates for positions on the bench.
JUAN CUELLAR TORRES (Colombia) said that his country has a system that is rules-based, democratic, participative and pluralist. He reaffirmed his country’s conviction that solid institutions are what ensures these are not mere words. There must be independent institutions that deliver these freedoms while controlling excesses of power. Still, despite sustained efforts, there are contradictory realities in Colombia, which is striving to be a single country governed by the rule of law. Colombian authorities and civil society will continue to work to re-establish peace and the right of victims to truth and reparations. His Government was alive to the challenges facing the country. Yet, rather than losing courage, this is fuelling its commitment to uphold the rule of law, he stressed, adding that it is committed to undertaking initiatives that ensure the primacy of truth and justice. Justice should be stable and lasting and should not overlook those who have committed the worst crimes in the history of Colombia, he said.
ALEX GIACOMELLI DA SILVA (Brazil) said abiding by the rule of law at the international level means that no country, no matter how powerful, is exempt from rigorous compliance with its legal obligations. Claims of exceptionalism are intrinsically incompatible with a rule-based system and, as the international community shifts toward a multipolar world, the United Nations Charter must remain at the centre of the international order. Access to justice is much more than access to courts. It involves universalizing birth registration, providing legal aid and strengthening alternative dispute resolutions. Brazil has strived to provide legal identity, including by ensuring it is free. It also does outreach to remote areas, such as Indian reservations. Asylum seekers are granted refugee status in Brazil, receive an identity card, have access to public medical assistance and are eligible to study and work. Statelessness is a challenge to accessing justice and therefore, more broadly, to the rule of law. An estimated 10 million people are stateless and one-third of these people are children. His Government passed a new Migration Law in 2014, which includes an entire section for the protection of stateless persons and the reduction of statelessness.
ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda), associating himself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed support for United Nations efforts to strengthen countries’ national ownership of judicial reform initiatives as well as its provision of assistance in such areas as national assessments and coordination with civil society groups. Rule of law applies to all and cannot be waived for those considered to be political activists; they should still abide by the law. The aftermath of the country’s 1994 genocide provides an example where hundreds of thousands of perpetrators were approached from a perspective of both justice and social harmony. “We sought to balance the strict application of the punitive provisions of the law with restorative alternatives,” he said, saying that home-grown solution served Rwanda better than any other system could have.
SYDNEY KEMBLE (Netherlands), aligning himself with the European Union, thanked the 11,000 police officers, 205 judicial affairs officers and 367 correction officers active in 12 United Nations peace operations for their work in strengthening the rule of law under challenging circumstances. Strengthening the principle is a continuous process for all States, including those with a well-established rule of law. For this reason, his Government established a State Commission to assess the country’s rule of law. Celebrating the fact that the Rome Statute was adopted 20 years ago, he urged the signatories to continue their political, financial and logistical support to the International Criminal Court. During the reporting period, 35 States Parties had ratified the amendments on the crimes of aggression. The rule of law applies equally, not only to States, but to international organizations, including the United Nations and its Funds and Programmes. The next report should include information on the Organization’s implementation of judicial decisions and on established procedures which are open to third parties filing a complaint or request of indemnification of damages caused to them by the Organization.
RISHY BUKOREE (Mauritius), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that rule of law is an accelerator for the attainment of the 2030 Agenda. Highlighting Goal 16.3 which focused on law and justice, he emphasized the important role of the International Court of Justice and added that international treaties are the cornerstone of the global system of cooperation. “Rule of law is a citadel that protects people against despotism and Government against anarchy,” he said, emphasizing its many elements, including accountability, separation of powers, and participation in decision-making. Human rights are entrenched in the Constitution of his country, he emphasized, noting that Mauritius is also taking the lead in combating piracy and improving maritime safety in its region.
ANET PINO RIVERO (Cuba), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed the importance of changing the current unfair international order. True rule of law must begin with the reform of the United Nations, she said, adding that it must become a model of transparency with a stronger role for the General Assembly. Calling for a broad and profound reform of the Security Council, she said it had not made significant contributions to the rule of law. She also emphasized the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other States, condemning any attempt to replace or supersede national authorities. Her country’s longstanding commitment to peace had led to its contribution to the peace process in Colombia, she said, adding that domestically, Cuba is undertaking Constitutional reform, strengthening its political system and making its structures of power more functional.
VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said: “The rule of law can only truly serve the people, if it is upheld first and foremost by the people themselves.” Highlighting the Bangkok Rules as a demonstration of his country’s on-going efforts to ensure the rule of law in an equitable and inclusive society, he added that setting norms and standards at the national and international level alone will not ensure the rule of law. International law needs to be understood by Government officials, non-State actors and individuals alike. His Government will continue to collaborate with the Codification Division in disseminating international law by co-hosting regional courses in international law for the Asia-Pacific, he said.
GEORGES EL JALLAD (Lebanon), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that human societies were built on a continuity of society, rules for that society and the application of those rules. Those three elements are linked to create a virtuous cycle and any weakness in one will lead to weaknesses in all. Societies need to agree on the rules that will govern them. In Lebanon, a consensual democracy system has been achieved and all political forces are represented in the two legislative branches that share decision making. If the different links in these chains are examined, political resolve to build the State can be seen, along with respect to create the rules and respect for responsibility. The United Nations has a key role to play as a mediator in unstable societies. It can also play a preventative role in bolstering political resolve where it is threatened. He voiced his support for United Nations assistance for States as it helps them build capacity for the rule of law. It does so by helping State institutions, by preventing armed violence and by combating corruption and terrorism.
VINCENT RITTENER (Switzerland) welcomed United Nations efforts to help States build their capacity to respect the rule of law and strengthen their national jurisdictions. Having effective, independent and impartial judicial systems in place is of paramount importance to building sustainable peace and preventing conflicts, as well as a prerequisite to ensure that States are able to fulfil their primary role in prosecuting international crimes. Underlining the importance of the fight against impunity and the role of the International Criminal Court and its work, he welcomed the Court’s recent activation of the jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as well as the adoption of specific amendments to article 8 of the Rome Statute which added war crimes related to the use of specific weapons. However, he also noted with concern several recent withdrawals from the Rome Statute and certain negative trends that put at stake the Court’s independence and effectiveness.
MADYEN ABDULRAZZAQ AL-KELASH (Iraq), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that his country - homeland of prophets, the cradle of civilization and the place where writing began - is committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the promotion of the rule of law. That is reflected in the peaceful transfer of power, the free and fair elections organized by an independent electoral commission and an independent judiciary. His country is combating human trafficking through preventive measures and is implementing support for victims. Iraq is also adhering to many important international conventions, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In addition, it is developing investment law to attract trade and investments, he said, thanking the United Nations for supporting Iraq’s economic and social development.
SHRI PREM DAS RAI (India), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the United Nations was established to prevent conflict between powers and bring about a greater rule of law to govern the behaviour of nation States. Noting the existence of the principle in areas like trade, investment and intellectual property, transport and communication, use of global commons such as seas and oceans, environment, climate change, and outer space, he said he regretted that there are other areas, such as terrorism, where the international community has not been able to develop the rule of law. India is the world’s largest democracy and the independence of its judiciary, legislature and executive branches along with a vibrant media is the basis for its rule of law. The country is party to a great number of treaties and conventions and is also partnering with fellow developing countries in capacity-building on electoral practices and drafting of laws, he said.
MODEST MERO (United Republic of Tanzania), aligning himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said his country continues to implement administrative, policy and legal measures so that all units responsible for the dispensation of justice can be easily accessed by its country’s people. The Government continues to use mobile courts in areas where there are no physical courts and judicial officers. This brings judicial services closer to the people and subsequently cuts down costs related to accessing justice by the poor, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable. In addition, the Zero Case Backlog Policy introduced in 2016 assigns judges and magistrates a minimum number of cases to be finalized within a year. These reforms have reduced the backlog, including the High Court, where the backlog dropped to 6 per cent this year, down from 27 per cent in 2016. Similar initiatives include restructuring the Office of the Attorney General. This restructuring aims to strengthen capacity to efficiently discharge duties made through the Attorney General’s Office, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Solicitor General, as well as by law officers in ministries, independent Government departments, agencies and local Government authorities.
THABO MOLEFE (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasized the importance of the rule of law in achieving the 2030 Agenda as well as peaceful relations between States. His Government fully supports the United Nations’ efforts to facilitate the codification, development and promotion of an international legal framework of norms, standards and mechanisms on a wide array of subjects. He recalled the General Assembly’s decision to ask the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, including South Africa’s position on that case. He went on to affirm that while the rule of law is essential at the international level, the importance of strengthening it at the domestic level should not be discounted.
DEKALEGA FINTAKPA LAMEGA (Togo), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the United Nations Charter and international law - both of which form the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous world. The principle must be universally upheld and fostering it is conducive to sustainable development and to the promotion and protection of human rights. Harmonious development of all countries can only occur in an environment that promotes the rule of law, he said, adding that ongoing conflicts are eroding decades of progress. Togo is resolutely pursuing a national reform process to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms and to find a definitive solution to recent political misunderstandings. He commended the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for assisting his Government in resolving political disputes with the aim of holding free and fair elections later this year.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said strengthening the rule of law is fundamental to upholding the principles of the United Nations and to preventing conflict. The humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and Venezuela highlight the need for United Nations programmes to promote the rule of law at the national and international levels. Hailing technical assistance provided by the Organization to States, he pointed to the relevance of efforts to strengthen national investigation and prosecution mechanisms. There also needs to be increased training for judges and for increased assistance to address gender-based violence. In addition, with the adequate legal framework the United Nations could better protect the oceans and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Latin America and the Caribbean is a peaceful region, he noted, adding that mediation offers a low-cost alternative to violence in situations where populations are at risk. Recognizing the progress made by international hybrid courts in combating impunity for heinous crimes, he also called for an end to discriminatory policies against migration.
MARIA SANDE (Uruguay), underscoring the complex and long-term nature of rule of law development, said that at a time when “we see steps backward rather than forward”, it is necessary to step up efforts in that area. Emphasizing the importance of supporting international courts and their work in ensuring justice, she added that international law is a means of sustaining peace in international relations. The 2030 Agenda is built on the ideals of the United Nations, including the self-determination of peoples and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Uruguay was one of the first countries to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, she said, calling on all States to implement their international commitments by incorporating them into domestic legislation.
IGOR BONDIUK (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said that rule of law development is key to his country’s judicial, financial and anti-corruption reforms. Ukraine has made palpable progress, including creating the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court, improving electronic Government procurements and conducting banking sector reforms. Rule of law is also crucial to the peaceful settlement of disputes, he said, highlighting several legal cases her country had initiated against the Russian Federation in international courts. In the beginning of 2017, the International Court of Justice obliged the Russian Federation to refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tartar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis. However, that country continues to ignore that Order. “We know that following the legal path is a lengthy process,” he said, “but we are confident that at the end we will achieve justice.”
AHUVA SEIFERAS (Israel) said her country’s commitment to democracy and human rights is often tested by the grave threats faced by its citizens and by the reality of the conflict in the Middle East. For Israel, States which are committed to ensuring both the liberties and the security of their citizens must constantly examine their counter-terrorism policies to make sure that they strike the right balance. On international tribunals, she said a central feature of any judicial body is a commitment to the consistent and fair application of legal principle. That is a key difference between courts and political institutions, she said, emphasizing that it is in the interest of all those who want strong, effective and credible international judicial systems to ensure that international courts operate within their defined jurisdiction.
SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka) said his country suffered for 30 years under terrorism and an accompanying culture of impunity. Sri Lankans were determined not to repeat past mistakes. The rule of law is the fulcrum upon which a fair and just society rests. It must be accompanied by an independent judiciary and the separation of powers if peace, development and human rights are to be advanced. Sri Lanka has taken several steps to rebuild its democratic institutions and create a framework for reconciliation among the country’s communities. Draft legislation to set up an Office of Reparations was approved by the Cabinet in June and the bill has been presented to Parliament. A draft legal framework on a proposed truth-seeking commission is under discussion and consideration of models and options has begun with regards to the right to justice. It is vital that the international community remembers the principles enshrined in Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. The rule of law at the international level must protect all States, especially developing countries, from the harshness of an empirically unequal world.
THOMAS AMOLO, Political and Diplomatic Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that the dissemination of international law promotes bilateral and multilateral cooperation and strengthens the rule of law at the international level. The digital era and the Internet have accorded people a vast array of platforms which ensure information is disseminated in a quick, effective and efficient manner. A click of a button on a smart phone can change lives. He welcomed the Programme of Assistance, emphasizing that the Audiovisual Library is available to all institutions and individuals around the world, free of charge via the Internet, the United Nations Webcast and PaperSmart. It provides an educational tool for the legal profession and academia particularly in developing countries. Such initiatives will bring the international community closer to realizing Sustainable Development Goal 16 on the promotion of the rule of law. The rule of law cannot exist without a transparent legal system. It must enable people to fulfil their dreams and aspirations, both individually and collectively.
SOLOMON KORBIEH (Ghana), associating himself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that capacity-building and technical assistance is crucial to advance the rule of law at the national and international levels. The Programme of Assistance, as well as the Audiovisual Library of International Law played a unique role by providing high quality international law training and research materials to a wide constituency of researchers, Government lawyers and teachers, not only from developing countries but also developed nations. His country has embarked on reforms in its justice sector, including the ratification of international human rights treaties, guarantees to citizens’ civil and political rights, administrative reforms to address judicial misconduct and a mechanism to check police behaviour, he said.
MARTIN GARCIA MORITAN (Argentina), underscoring the importance of combating impunity, commended the United Nations’ efforts to build capacity in Member States, particularly with regards to accountability for grave crimes. South-South cooperation is also a valuable forum for capacity building, he noted, adding that at the international level, the Rome Statute is one of the most significant achievements of the international community. Advocating its universal nature, he welcomed the initiation of the exercise of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Also commending the work of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, he added that the human rights violations in Syria should be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. Spotlighting the role of the International Court of Justice as the main judicial body of the Organization, he reiterated his country’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 16.
Statement by General Assembly President
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said that the rule of law is at the very core of the United Nations. More so, successful sustainable development cannot be achieved in its absence. She underscored the need to advance the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and eliminate terrorism. The nature of the menace has shifted and the world is experiencing smaller but profound attacks. In West Africa, Boko Haram and affiliate groups continue to terrorize hard-to-reach villages. Member States have also strengthened their response capacities, as was the case last week when the Netherlands was able to frustrate such an attack. The Sixth Committee should work to finish drafting the draft convention on international terrorism, she stressed.
There was also a need to expand access to justice and to advance the rule of law at all levels, she continued, noting that legal and judicial options should be accessible to the billions of people represented by the United Nations. She also highlighted the work of the Sixth Committee on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission. The General Assembly has expressed concern over allegations of fraud, corruption and exploitation by such personnel. The United Nations must hold itself to a higher standard than this and the policy of zero tolerance of criminal activities should be maintained.
Commending the work of the International Law Commission, she noted that in the last year alone, the Commission had addressed a variety of subjects, including subsequent agreements and subsequent practice in relation to the interpretation of treaties and the identification of international customary law. To bring the United Nations closer to the people, its work must respond to their needs and interests, she emphasized, adding that the United Nations Charter should be upheld and international law should underpin all that the Organization does.