The Role of the UN in Promoting the Rule of Law: Challenges and New Approaches

By Eliasson, Jan | UN Chronicle, December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Role of the UN in Promoting the Rule of Law: Challenges and New Approaches


Eliasson, Jan, UN Chronicle


THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF THE RULE OF LAW

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The rule of law is the bedrock upon which the United Nations is built. On the international stage, it is fundamental to peace and stability. All States in the General Assembly have an obligation to abide by the Charter of the United Nations and the wider body of international law. All Member States are expected to be subject to these laws, to apply them in their international relations, and to be equal before them. Working to ensure this basic principle is the essence of our work to promote the rule of law at the international level.

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The United Nations also promotes the rule of law within Member States by fostering the development of norms, social practices and institutions that ensure the independence of core governance institutions. This strengthens the decision-making processes to which political leaders are subject, by curbing the arbitrary exercise of political power. This is especially important in post-conflict situations in order to solidify and build on political settlements.

It is also important to consider how the rule of law reaches far beyond laws and courts. By promoting a government of law, equally applicable to all without discrimination, the rule of law makes political and economic opportunities available to all members of society. It empowers people by providing a right of access to public services, making State entities accountable for the delivery of such services. The rule of law also strengthens mechanisms that enforce and protect universal human rights. As such, strengthening the rule of law creates both opportunity and equity, and ultimately helps create better conditions for the broader responsibilities of States and the United Nations.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECLARATION ON THE RULE OF LAW

Highlighting the fundamental importance of the rule of law, on 24 September 2012, the General Assembly concluded its first High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law by adopting a very important Declaration. For the first time, Member States agreed that "all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to just, fair and equitable laws and are entitled without any discrimination, to equal protection of the law".

The Declaration covered the breadth of the rule of law, including the importance of judicial systems to informal justice systems, transitional justice, transnational organized crime and terrorism, corruption and international trade. The Declaration reaffirmed that the rule of law is indispensable for upholding peace and security, as well as sustainable development and respect for human rights.

DEVELOPING INTEGRATED APPROACHES

In focusing on these linkages, the Declaration builds upon the fundamental formula of the September 2005 United Nations World Summit. There is no peace without development; there is no development without peace; and there is no lasting peace and sustainable development without respect for human rights. Our challenge now is to implement the Declaration, and to translate its aspirations into concrete action. In order to do so, we need to break down the walls between our activities in these three pillars and adopt a holistic and integrated approach. The rule of law helps us cut across all three pillars of our work in facing and solving problems.

The 2011 World Development Report by the World Bank advanced this idea by offering concrete evidence that these three interlinked issues are central in breaking cycles of fragility in areas such as security, justice and jobs. Each can be strengthened through the rule of law.

We see this need for an integrated approach in conflict-torn areas where transitional justice, anchored in broad consultations, stabilizes security. By prosecuting perpetrators, we begin the process of healing. By facilitating truth and reconciliation, we allow communities to reunite.

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