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Respect for rule of law key barometer of Africa's progress, Annan says

Respect for rule of law key barometer of Africa's progress, Annan says

Since fundamental challenges at the heart of development require not only leadership and resources but a legal response, a key barometer of Africa's progress will be the promotion of and respect for the rule of law, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed in a message to a gathering of eminent jurists in Abuja, Nigeria, today.

That vital legal response "gives lawyers and all others involved in the pursuit of justice a critical role in the continent's future," Mr. Annan said in his message to the All-Africa Conference on Law, Justice and Development, which was delivered on his behalf by UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell. He stressed the importance of that approach in meeting the demands of democratization, governance and accountability; as well as in working to eliminate discrimination against women and to combat corruption, terrorism and other forms of criminality.

The Conference, set to run through Friday, is an initiative undertaken by an informal Coalition of African Jurists (CAJ) under the leadership of Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, Chief Justice of Nigeria. The CAJ believes that sustainable economic growth and development are achievable for each African country within the next few decades if Africa recommits itself to re-affirming the pre-eminence of the rule of law and if it acts resolutely to promote justice for all of its people.

"You can set an example for peaceful discourse," Mr. Annan said in his message. "You can educate others and find strength in advocating together for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

While noting that Africans have played a vital role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and are becoming a party to international treaties and legal regimes, he stressed it was not enough for States to simply give their consent to be bound by such treaties, or "to take action only to give the appearance of compliance."

"You can press your leaders to fulfil their commitments while urging leaders around the world to honour their pledge to the Millennium Declaration to help Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development," Mr. Annan said.

"Africans have long dreamt of a just and prosperous continent governed by the rule of law," Mr. Annan said, noting that while that dream may not have yet have been realized, efforts toward it are intensifying. "Democratic roots are becoming firmer, and the rule of law is now understood as the sine qua non for stability and development."