In his report “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” (A/59/2005) the Secretary-General noted that “while freedom from want and fear are essential they are not enough. All human beings have the right to be treated with dignity and respect” (para. 27). Such dignity and respect are afforded to people through the enjoyment of all human rights and are protected through the rule of law.
The backbone of the freedom to live in dignity is the international human rights framework, together with international humanitarian law, international criminal law and international refugee law. Those foundational parts of the normative framework are complementary bodies of law that share a common goal: the protection of the lives, health and dignity of persons. The rule of law is the vehicle for the promotion and protection of the common normative framework. It provides a structure through which the exercise of power is subjected to agreed rules, guaranteeing the protection of all human rights.
As defined by the Secretary-General, the rule of law requires that legal processes, institutions and substantive norms are consistent with human rights, including the core principles of equality under the law, accountability before the law and fairness in the protection and vindication of rights (S/2004/616, para. 6). There is no rule of law within societies if human rights are not protected and vice versa; human rights cannot be protected in societies without a strong rule of law. The rule of law is the implementation mechanism for human rights, turning them from a principle into a reality.
The rule of law has played an integral part in anchoring economic, social and cultural rights in national constitutions, laws and regulations. Where such rights are justiciable or their legal protection is otherwise ensured, the rule of law provides the means of redress when those rights are not upheld or public resources are misused.
While universally agreed human rights, norms and standards provide its normative foundation, the rule of law must be anchored in a national context, including its culture, history and politics. States therefore do have different national experiences in the development of their systems of the rule of law. Nevertheless, as affirmed by the General Assembly in resolution 67/1, there are common features founded on international norms and standards.
The rule of law and human rights are two sides of the same principle, the freedom to live in dignity. The rule of law and human rights therefore have an indivisible and intrinsic relationship. That intrinsic relationship has been fully recognized by Member States since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which it is stated that it is essential, “if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.
In the Millennium Declaration, Member States agreed to spare no efforts to strengthen the rule of law and respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the 2005 World Summit Outcome, Member States recognized the rule of law and human rights as belonging to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations. In the Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, Member States emphasized that human rights and the rule of law were interlinked and mutually reinforcing.
The Human Rights Council has actively advanced the rule of law. A series of resolutions have been adopted by the Council that directly relate to both human rights and the rule of law, including on the administration of justice; on the integrity of the judicial system; and on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Human Rights Council has established several special procedure mechanisms directly related to the rule of law, such as the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.