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United Nations: Local Ownership Key to Success of Efforts to Further Rule of Law, Says Deputy Secretary-General At General Assembly Informal Briefing


Following is the text of the address as delivered by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at the General Assembly informal briefing on the rule of law in New York, 12 April:

Let me thank all of you for participating in this important briefing. As Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have a strong commitment to advancing the rule of law at both the national and international levels. And as a former professor of law, I retain a deep personal interest in this area. I am therefore delighted for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on this issue, and to hear your ideas and suggestions as well.

The notion that everyone -– from the individual citizen right up to the State itself -– is accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated is the basic idea underpinning the rule of law. Today, this concept drives the United Nations work in all areas and at all levels.

At the international level, as expressed in the Preamble to the Charter, the founders resolved “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”. The Organization has strived always towards this ideal. Over the years, Member States have worked together at the United Nations to codify and progressively develop an important body of international law. These efforts have been aided and enhanced by the judgments and advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice, and the work of the international criminal tribunals. As a result, we now have a broad set of legal norms covering fundamental issues such as human rights, the environment, trade and weapons of mass destruction. Collectively, they represent one of the United Nations most impressive achievements.

However, this framework can and should be reinforced further. A strengthened legal regime at the international level is crucial to the cause of peace. It can help to prevent or resolve conflicts and check weapons proliferation. It can protect people from genocide and other crimes against humanity. And it can aid the fight against terrorists and support efforts to limit the spread of communicable diseases.

Rule of law is equally essential for national progress as well. Strong and effective legal and judicial institutions are essential to protect human rights and personal freedoms. An effective legal system can also spur economic progress and improve living conditions. Indeed, in today’s age, legal and judicial reform cannot be separated from broader development efforts.

In post-conflict societies, establishing rule of law is fundamental to peace and security in the immediate aftermath of conflict as well as to long-term peacebuilding. Peace is only sustainable when people are confident their grievances can be redressed through a fair legal process. Absent this assurance, individuals are more likely to revert to arms and other unlawful means to protect themselves and their interests.

Despite the importance of well-functioning legal systems, international support for national rule of law programmes has produced mixed results. Such initiatives have tended to over emphasize foreign expertise and solutions at the expense of local ownership. International know-how certainly has a vital role in any rule of law process. However, any truly effective and sustainable approach has to start by understanding national needs and capacities. Our efforts must seek to mobilize, to the fullest extent possible, local knowledge and local resources.

That is why the United Nations rule of law work increasingly emphasizes nationally-led assessments, and the active and meaningful participation of all national stakeholders. We do not seek to export a pre-fabricated legal framework, nor do we desire a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, our assistance aims to facilitate dialogue and consensus, provide legal and technical advice, promote the participation of women and traditionally excluded groups, support capacity-building and help mobilize financial resources. But it leaves the ownership of the process and the decision-making to the national stakeholders.

In fact, our most critical role often boils down to facilitating a vigorous discussion among national stakeholders over their priorities and policies. We have to respect national ownership, cultivate local leadership and strengthen national constituencies that advocate and plan for reform. In essence, all of us must approach the United Nations rule of law work as a long-term development effort that needs to be responsive to local cultural, political and social contexts.

The United Nations has unique legitimacy and extensive experience in providing rule of law assistance. Every day, our colleagues perform truly valuable work in this area. However, we also operate in a crowded field where a lack of coordination produces both duplication and waste. For instance, I understand that one State with 10 million people and fewer than 500 judges has had more than 50 assessment reports sponsored by 22 donors on various aspects of its judicial system. Clearly, there is a need for parties to coordinate among themselves, and to accept direction from the recipient country when evaluating national needs or developing a framework for assistance.

I believe that the recently created Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group can help advance this aim. Under my chair, this Group will bring together principals from all relevant United Nations departments and agencies to help ensure policy coherence at the very highest levels across the entire United Nations system.

The Coordination and Resource Group will be assisted by a Secretariat Unit that draws together United Nations staff with a wide range of experiences in the rule of law field. This Unit responds to repeated calls by Member States -– at the 2005 World Summit and in subsequent General Assembly resolutions –- for the strengthening of the United Nations rule of law work. It will help boost United Nations rule of law centred activities. At the same time, its creation also helps signal our strong and continuing commitment to addressing this vital subject in a strategic and systematic fashion.

The Secretary-General and I are committed to the United Nations rule of law work. We wish to see the Organization deliver on this area in the most effective way possible, at both the international and national levels. And we are determined to support all efforts by you, the Member States, to implement responsive rule of law systems within your countries.

Together, I am confident we can work to strengthen the laws and safeguards needed by citizens everywhere to lead dignified and productive lives.


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