One of the main tenets of the United Nations is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to that end, to work in unison to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest. Hence, article 1 of the UN Charter establishes as one of the main purposes of the Organization to maintain international peace and security and to bring about by peaceful means the settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace, in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.
This core function of the United Nations is generally conducted at two different levels. At the international level, the UN does this by working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold. The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. The General Assembly and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other UN offices and bodies.
At the national level, the United Nations works to support national rule of law institutions to prevent further conflict, to assist in de-escalating from a conflict situation, and to create an environment that is conducive to peace and security, including supporting accountability efforts related to human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Supporting rule of law and security institutions serves short-term goals of prevention and long-term goals of sustainable peace.
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. There is no rule of law within societies if human rights are not protected and vice-versa. 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.
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 has been fully recognized by Member States since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which it is stated 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 human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the 2005 World Summit Outcome, Member States recognized the rule of law and human rights belong 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.
In the Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, Member States noted that “the rule of law and development are strongly interrelated and mutually reinforcing, that the advancement of the rule of law at the national and international levels is essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and hunger and the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, all of which in turn reinforce the rule of law”. They therefore called for consideration of that interrelationship in the post-2015 international development agenda. At the international level, the body of international instruments, including those concerning international trade and finance, climate change and protection of the environment and the right to development, establishes internationally agreed standards which support sustainable development.
At the national level, the rule of law is necessary to create an environment for providing sustainable livelihoods and eradicating poverty. Poverty often stems from disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination. The rule of law fosters development through strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, by providing access to justice , ensuring due process and establishing remedies for the violation of rights . Security of livelihoods, shelter, tenure and contracts can enable and empower the poor to defend themselves against violations of their rights. Legal empowerment goes beyond the provision of legal remedies and supports better economic opportunities.
In order for the rule of law to further sustainable development outcomes, it must ensure protection for all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. While rule by law may provide a legal framework, contractual certainty and dispute resolution mechanisms that support economic growth and development, it is only the rule of law, consistent with international human rights, which can provide for development that is also inclusive and sustainable.
As highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, recent experience demonstrates that narrow developmental efforts that exclude justice and rights considerations fail to achieve sustainable human development (A/68/345, para. 64).
The General Assembly has highlighted, inter alia, the importance of access to justice for all , and in this regard encouraged the strengthening and improvement of the administration of justice, and emphasized that respect for the rule of law and property rights and the pursuit of appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks encourage business formation , including entrepreneurship, and contribute to poverty eradication.
Improved security of tenure for land and property can make a critical contribution to ensuring social and economic progress in rural and urban settings, supporting poverty reduction and furthering gender equality and peace and security. Land tenure, including a range of tenure types appropriate to local conditions and needs, such as community property rights and the protection of resource commons, creates certainty about what can be done with land or property and its use and can increase economic opportunities and benefits through investment, improving health, financial stability and personal safety.
More broadly, ensuring the rule of law in the exploitation of natural resources is essential to ensuring inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development and in respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of persons. Sustainably and transparently managed natural resources can be the engine for economic well-being and a basis for stable and peaceful societies. Resources such as transboundary water resources require a high degree of cooperation among sharing countries and appropriate legal frameworks to support sustainable management. Proper management of natural resources, in accordance with the rule of law, is also a key factor in peace and security, highlighting the interconnectedness of the three pillars of the United Nations system. The risk of violent conflict is elevated when the exploitation of natural resources causes environmental damage and loss of livelihoods, or when benefits are unequally distributed. To this end, ensuring the accountability of the private sector for its activities, as well as the private sector’s support for strengthening the rule of law , can be critical.