The United Nations is instrumental in the promotion of a system based on the rule of law at the international level, anchored in the Charter and framed by the corpus of international treaties and justice mechanisms developed under its auspices. In the context of international human rights law, the rule of law requires that legal processes, institutions and substantive norms are consistent with human rights, including the core principles of non-discrimination and equality under the law. The advancement of the rule of law at the national and international levels is thus essential for the protection of human rights and all fundamental freedoms.

Gender equality is at the very heart of human rights and United Nations values. Protecting and promoting women’s human rights is the responsibility of all States. Yet, many women around the world continue to experience discrimination in many forms, for example:

  • Laws and policies prohibit women from equal access to land, property, and housing;
  • Economic and social discrimination;
  • Gender-based violence;
  • Denial of sexual and reproductive health rights;

Discrimination based on sex is prohibited under almost every human rights treaty, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which under their common article 3 provide for the rights to equality between men and women in the enjoyment of all rights. In addition, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is dedicated to the realization of women’s human rights. Considered the international bill of rights for women, the Convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

In 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which calls for the increased participation of women and the incorporation of gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts (including participation of women in decision-making and peace processes, gender perspectives in training and peacekeeping and gender mainstreaming in UN reporting systems). Since then, the UN Security Council has adopted several resolutions on women, peace and security. In 2008, it adopted landmark Resolution 1820 (2008), the first devoted to addressing sexual violence in conflict situations.  The subsequent follow-up resolutions, 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), have focused on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence, and have established the United Nations architecture to this end, including the appointment of the special representative on sexual violence in conflict and the establishment of a Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict.

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The United Nations is committed to actively protect and promote all human rights, the rule of law and democracy and recognizes that they are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and their belonging to the universal and indivisible core values of the United Nations.

One of the key areas in which the United Nations supports human rights is in providing accountability for serious violations of humanitarian law and gross human rights violations. Addressing such atrocities through the rule of law strengthens peace, security and development.

 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, set the foundation for the development of the corpus of international human rights law. Human rights and obligations are set forth in a series of treaties and other documents, and their implementation is supported and monitored through the system of treaty bodies. Within the UN System, The Legal (Sixth) Committee is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly.

The UN system further supports the progressive development and codification of international law through the work of the International Law Commission, commended in the Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law [para. 33]. At the International level, the rule of law enhances and protect human rights and gender equality by promoting and ratifying treaties and their optional protocols via the action of designated bodies. Among these, some examples are:

  1. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which recently adopted the general recommendations No.33 on women’s access to justice and No.34 on the rights of rural woman
  2. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recently adopted the general comments No.22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health and No.23 on the right to just and favourable conditions of work
  3. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) three commissions of inquiry (for the Syrian Arab Republic, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Eritrea) and the fact-finding investigations on atrocities conducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram.