The Security Council first used the concept of the “rule of law” in 1996 in resolution 1040 where it expressed its support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to promote “national reconciliation, democracy, security and the rule of law” in Burundi. 

In 2000, the influential Brahimi-report on peacekeeping argued strongly for a new paradigm in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, emphasizing the important role of the rule of law. Since then, the Council has mandated support for the rule of law in many peacekeeping operations and special political missions. There are currently 19 Security Council mission mandates that include strengthening the rule of law.

In most peacekeeping operations and special political missions the role of the United Nations has been that of support to the national police, justice and corrections authorities, and of coordinating international assistance in these areas. However, in two situations, Kosovo and Timor-Leste, the United Nations has had direct responsibility for the administration of justice, including control of police and prison services. Recently, in resolution 2149 (2014) on the Central African Republic, in addition to the rule of law assistance mandate given to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the Security Council mandated “urgent temporary measures” to maintain basic law and order on the request of the Government of the Central African Republic (S/RES/2149 (2014)).   

Rule of law activities have also been integrated into thematic Council resolutions and presidential statements.  The Council held its first thematic debate on the rule of law in 2003. The resulting Presidential Statement mandated the Secretary-General to report on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies.. This report became foundational for the Council’s consideration of the rule of law, including, for example, a definition by the Secretary-General of the rule of law for the purposes of the United Nations. The Security Council has further debated “the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of peace and security” in 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In the resulting resolutions and presidential statements, the Council has focused on a plethora of rule of law issues, including protection of civilians, peacekeeping and international criminal justice.  In February 2014, Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2014/5) reaffirmed the continued recognition of the need for universal adherence to and implementation of the rule of law.  It also underscored that sustainable peace requires an integrated approach based on coherence between political, security, development, human rights, including gender equality, and rule of law and justice activities.

In addition to the thematic debates dedicated to the rule of law, the importance of the restoration and strengthening of the rule of law has been prominently recognized in other thematic discussions and outcome documents of the Security Council, for example on Children and Armed Conflict, on the Protection of Civilians and on Women, Peace and Security

The Security Council has also been central to strengthening the rule of law by promoting accountability for the most serious international crimes.  Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, finding that accountability was essential for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Whilst the centre of gravity for accountability efforts has now shifted to the International Criminal Court, the Security Council has an important role in moving forward the principle of accountability for serious international crimes, and for highlighting their link with international peace and security.  Article 16 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court allows for a referral of a situation by the Security Council to the ICC, under Chapter VII of the Charter.  This has been exercised in respect of the situations in Darfur and in Libya.