The General Assembly has established that human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations. The advancement of the rule of law is essential to achieve sustained economic growth, sustainable development, eradication of poverty, hunger and the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

To achieve a catalytical political environment, capable of dismantling the cycles of violence, the rule of law is essential to both create an enabling environment and addressing the root causes of poverty, corruption and impunity.      Within the UN System, international cooperation, security, justice and equity under the law are promoted at the intergovernmental level through the contributions of the principal organs of the UN, their funds and programs, specialized agencies, department and offices.

The rule of law was first considered by the General Assembly at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 1993. On the same year, following the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Third Committee of the General Assembly debated and adopted its first resolution on strengthening the rule of law, which was lately updated on a yearly based until 2002.

In 2005, the world leaders gathered at United Nations World Summit in New York unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to an international order based on the rule of law and requested the UN to pose greater attention to the matter. The General Assembly unanimously expressed support for the establishment of a dedicated rule of law assistance unit within the Secretariat so as to strengthen United Nations activities to promote the rule of law, including through technical assistance and capacity-building.

Following the Summit, the Third Committee and its bodies continued to regularly consider the rule of law in the administration of justice, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and the reform of criminal justice institutions. In similar fashion, a new agenda item denominated “The Rule of Law at the National and International Level” was introduced by the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly; thereinafter, the topic became more and more central, and annual resolutions have been adopted: 61/39,62/7063/12864/11665/3266/10267/167/9768/11669/123, 70/118. The Sixth Committee is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly. All of the United Nations Member States are entitled to representation on the Sixth Committee as one of the main committees of the General Assembly.

In 2012, the 67th session of the General Assembly was opened by a High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, which resulting declaration became a milestone and opened on the full breadth of subject area falling within the new spectrum of the rule of law. At the same time, Member States took the opportunity for further commitment to the cause via voluntary pledges to the rule of law. The rule of law has also figured prominently in the Assembly’s consideration of other topics, such as the Responsibility to Protect and Counter-Terrorism, as well as in other key thematic areas.

The concept of the rule of law was used for the first time by the Security Council in its resolution n. 1040 (1996) on the Secretary General’s effort to promote “national reconciliation, democracy and the rule of law” in Burundi. Four years later, with the release of the Brahimi report on peacekeeping, a new paradigm for peacekeeping and peacebuilding focused on the rule of law was brought to the table.

Since 2003, rule of law activities have also been integrated into thematic Council Resolutions and Presidential Statements, leading to the mandate to the Secretary General to report on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post conflict areas.

The Security Council’s recent resolutions
on rule of law related are set out in:

Resolutions 2185 (2014) and 2382 (2017) on United Nations Policing, resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1894 (2009) on the protection of civilians, 1325 (2000) and 2242 (2015) on women, peace and security, 2086 (2013) on peacekeeping operations, 2151 (2014) on security sector reform, 1645 (2005), 2282 (2016) and 2413 (2018) on post-conflict peacebuilding, 2436 (2018) on performance in peacekeeping operations, and statements of its President such as the statements of 6 October 2004 (S/PRST/2004/34), 29 June 2010 (S/PRST/2010/11), 19 January 2012 (S/PRST/2012/1) and 21 February 2014 (S/PRST/2014/5) on the rule of law and of 12 February 2010 (S/PRST/2010/2) and 14 May 2018 (S/PRST/2018/10) on peacekeeping operations, the statement of 14 July 1997 (S/PRST/1997/38) on civilian police.

As result of these documents, the rule of law became more and more prominent and a definition by the Secretary-General of the rule of law for the purposes of the United Nations was created.

The Council has recognized the rule of law as bedrock for sustainable peace and development. As a result, Security Council peace operations mandates include strengthening the rule of law, with many peacekeeping and special political missions actively involved in supporting the role of national police, justice and corrections authorities and coordinated national assistance.

The Security Council has further debated on the “promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of peace and security” (2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014). In addition, the topic has been prominently recognized in other thematic discussions and outcome documents of the Council, such as on Children and Armed Conflicton the Protection of Civilians and on Women, Peace and Security.

In December 2018, the Security Council adopted resolution 2447 (2018), which emphasized the importance of the rule of law in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. This includes the promotion of accountability for crimes in domestic justice systems and redress for victims for past violations and abuses. It provides direction to the work of United Nations’ peace operations when supporting national authorities in the areas of police, justice and corrections, emphasizing the need for coordination, coherence and integration of efforts.

The former Secretary-General in his Report on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies defined the rule of law as a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

In 2017, the UN’s commitment to the Rule of Law was renewed by the new Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In his vision statement, he addressed the need to recognize how it could not be peace without development, not sustainable development without peace, and no peace or sustainable development without respect for the human rights and the rule of law.

At the executive level, a dedicated rule of law assistance unit within the Secretariat was established under request of Member States in 2005, with the objective to support and coordinate activities to strengthen the rule of law

ECOSOC operates at the centre of the UN system’s work on all three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental. It is the unifying platform for integration, action on sustainable development and follow-up and review. As the umbrella for the UN’s functional and regional commissions, and operational and specialized agencies, it links the setting of global norms with their implementation. ECOSOC has recognized that the rule of law it is not just the foundation of a more peaceful and just world, but also the tool to build prosperous societies which will leave no one behind.

In the Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law, it was recognized by Member States the positive contribution of the ECOSOC in enhancing the rule of law to eradicate poverty and furthering the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

In 1992, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was established under the ECOSOC, acting as the principal policy making body of the United Nations in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice.
In its mandate, as discussed during the 23th session of the CCPCJ, the Commission has advocated for the role of the rule of law in crime prevention and criminal justice.

Established in 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the UN. The Court plays a key role in promoting and implementing the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, inter alia through negotiation, enquiries, good offices, mediation, conciliation or other peaceful means. The Court also gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.

In the Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law, Member States reaffirmed their duty to settle international dispute via the means advocated by the Court, bringing specific attention to contributions of these international adjudicative bodies, as well as other international courts and tribunals, in advancing the rule of law at the international and national level.

To find out more about the functioning of the Court, visit the ICJ website