Addressing UN Assembly, Annan urges nations to restore respect for rule of law

21 September 2004

Decrying what he described as “shameless” disregard for the rule of law around the globe, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged world leaders gathered at the General Assembly to do everything within their power to restore respect for the fundamental principles of law – in domestic affairs, as well as on the international arena.

“Today the rule of law is at risk around the world,” he said in an address to the General Assembly as it met for the first day of its annual top-level general debate. “Again and again, we see laws shamelessly disregarded – those that ordain respect for innocent life, for civilians, for the vulnerable – especially children.”

Mr. Annan called on the international community to start from the principle that no one is above the law, and no one should be denied its protection. “Every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad; and every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home,” he said.

And at the international level, all countries need a framework of fair rules and the confidence that others will obey them, he argued, noting that one of the UN’s proudest achievements has been the creation of a body of norms and laws covering trade to terrorism, from the law of the sea to weapons of mass destruction.

“Yet this framework is riddled with gaps and weaknesses,” he said. “Too often it is applied selectively, and enforced arbitrarily. It lacks the teeth that turn a body of laws into an effective legal system,” he said.

In concept alone, he added, the rule of law is not enough – “laws must be put into practice and permeate the fabric of our lives.”

Citing recent examples of the disregard for the rule of law, Mr. Annan pointed in part to the situation in Darfur, a vast area where “things are happening which must shock the conscience of every human being.” He urged “every possible support” for the efforts of the African Union (AU) to bring the 18-monthlong conflict to an end and ease the humanitarian disaster or risk history’s harsh judgment.

“Let no one imagine that this affair concerns Africans alone,” he said. “The victims are human beings, whose human rights must be sacred to all of us. We all have a duty to do whatever we can to rescue them, and do it now.”

The Secretary-General noted that the UN was founded in the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind. “Today we must look again into our collective conscience, and ask whether we are doing enough. Each generation has its part to play in the age-long struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all – which alone can guarantee freedom for all,” he said.

“Let our generation not be found wanting,” he concluded.


Video of address


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