The United Nations is working on developing "important new tools" to strengthen its support for the rule of law and transitional justice in States that are either still facing or just emerging from conflict, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council today.
Opening a Council debate on the issue, Mr. Annan said peace-building activities in post-conflict countries will not work unless they are both reflective of international norms and standards and tailored to national needs and aspirations.
The Secretary-General stressed that the political context is also important because "peace and stability can only prevail if the causes of conflict are addressed in a legitimate and fair manner."
He cited causes such as "ethnic discrimination, gross disparities in the distribution of wealth and social services, abuse of power, and the denial of the right to property or citizenship" as examples.
Discussing his recent report on the rule of law, Mr. Annan said the UN system and the international community as a whole have a wide range of tools at their disposal to assist nations coming out of conflicts.
These include: the support of UN peacekeeping and peace-building missions for national justice systems; the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the ad hoc international criminal tribunals and truth commissions; and the distribution of reparations among the victims of human rights violations.
As an example, the ICC "offers new hope for a permanent reduction in the phenomenon of impunity," he said.
Two weeks ago Mr. Annan told world leaders who had gathered for the General Assembly that there was a "shameless" disregard for the rule of law in many countries today.
Today he said the new tools being developed at the UN should help in the battle to make sure the rule of law is respected in countries which have been shattered by conflict. The tools include a justice sector mapping guide, support for the setting up of model transitional criminal codes, and policy guidance for prosecutions in both domestic and hybrid legal systems. Video
Briefing the Council later, Mr. Annan's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Méndez, focused on the issue of transitional justice and the importance of having some kind of mechanism to end impunity for anyone who had committed mass crimes.
Mr. Méndez said the mechanisms that are ultimately chosen must not only be customized to suit each country, but they should draw from the knowledge and experience of civil society groups, academia and democratic governments.
He added that the Security Council could play a greater role, whether by creating mixed or hybrid courts or by authorizing cooperation with the ICC.
Mr. Méndez also said that war-crimes tribunals and truth and reconciliation commissions can exist together, complementing each other's work rather than overlapping. Video
The Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, said the rule of law is "an indispensable platform for development" because people and economies needed rules and stability if they were to function.
He said the success of new laws in a country emerging from conflict depended on their legitimacy, and that in turn was based on whether the local public believed the laws were home-grown or simply imported wholesale from another legal system altogether.
Mr. Malloch Brown said it was also important that international assistance on the rule of law - whether financial, technical or logistical - not ignore the link with politics.
Too often the help to a community arrived in the form of only technical know-how or a computer when the funding of a police officer's post in a fragile neighbourhood would be felt as more immediately useful. Video
The debate was chaired by the United Kingdom, which holds the Council's rotating presidency for the month of October.