Strengthening the rule of law is essential to tackling some of the most urgent global challenges, as well as enhancing justice and accountability within the United Nations itself, top officials told the Security Council today.
“As the world faces new and evolving threats to international peace and security, such as trans-national organized crime, terrorism and piracy, the Security Council should place the rule of law at the centre of its response,” Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said in her remarks to the Council’s open debate on the rule of law.
Strengthening national laws, security and justice systems in a sustainable and nationally-owned manner is vital, she stated, adding that action at the international, regional and domestic levels must be aligned, and grounded in international norms and standards.
“The principle that all individuals and entities, including States, are accountable to the law lies at the heart of the rule of law at both the national and international levels. All mechanisms – judicial and non-judicial – that secure compliance with, or enforce international law, require strengthening,” she stated.
Noting the special role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the peaceful settlement of disputes before intractable conflict and post-conflict situations arise, she said, strengthening the relationship between the Council and the Court will fortify the rule of law.
In addition, she noted that by establishing the ad hoc and hybrid tribunals, the Council has been at the forefront of the campaign for individual accountability for crimes under international law.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that, as a prevention tool, the UN should prioritize security, access to justice and legal protection for all to make it more likely that disputes within society are resolved through legal, rather than violent, means.
At the same time, she said, in response to international crimes, the world body must redouble its efforts to build national capacities to hold alleged perpetrators accountable.
Ms. Migiro also pointed out that, since 2006, the UN system has enhanced its capacities, including through setting up the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), bringing together areas such as police; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration; security sector reform; and mine action.
Despite this, the UN still faces major challenges and constraints, including the need to recruit, train, and retain high-quality personnel and deploy them in a rapid, consistent and predictable manner, as well as mobilizing the necessary financial resources.
In her address to the meeting, which heard from nearly 40 speakers, UN legal chief Patricia O’Brien said that any discussion on the rule of law at the international level should address the ongoing issue of Security Council sanctions regimes.
“This regime performs a necessary role in the maintenance of international peace and security,” said Ms. O’Brien, who is Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel. “In so doing, it is critical that, as with any decision of the Council, sanctions be adopted in accordance with international law, consistent with the objectives enshrined in the Charter.”
The establishment of an Office of the Ombudsperson is an important step by the Council towards ensuring fair and clear procedures for individuals and entities listed by the various Council committees monitoring UN sanctions, she said.
Ms. O’Brien also noted that no discussion regarding the rule of law and the UN would be complete without addressing the internal administration of justice system, which is about to mark its first anniversary.
“The reform of the United Nations internal system of administration of justice was achieved in a remarkably short period of time, demonstrating the capacity of Member States, management and staff to act swiftly and in a coordinated effort,” she stated.
For 60 years, the UN’s internal mechanism for resolving employment disputes consisted of review by a peer review body composed of staff members, followed by a review by the UN Administrative Tribunal.
The new system called for by the General Assembly in 2005 has introduced two tiers of judicial review, and this became operational on 1 July 2009. The Dispute Tribunal has issued over 200 judgments to date. By the end of this week, the Appeals Tribunal will have already convened two sessions this year and reviewed over 60 cases.
“The new system stands as a milestone in strengthening the commitment of the Organization to the rule of law, justice and accountability,” said Ms. O’Brien.
The meeting wrapped up with a presidential statement read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, in which members voiced their strong support for an international order based on the rule of law and international law.
The statement focused on efforts to end impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and urged States to live up to their responsibilities in these areas.
“This Council intends to continue forcefully to fight impunity and uphold accountability with appropriate means and draws attention to the full range of justice and reconciliation mechanisms to be considered, including national, international and mixed criminal courts and tribunals, truth and reconciliation commissions as well as national reparation programmes for victims, institutional reforms and traditional dispute resolution mechanisms,” it said.