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Rule of Law Represents 'Best Hope for Building Peaceful, Prosperous Societies', Says Secretary-General as General Assembly Holds Thematic Debate

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Sixty-fifth General Assembly Informal Thematic Debate AM & PM Meetings

Panel Discussions Address Rule of Law and Conflict Situations, Development; Intended as Contribution to Preparatory Process for 2012 High-Level Meeting

With calls for good governance, transparency, trustworthy legal systems and accountability for crimes ringing out from the Arab world to Africa, Asia and Europe, the rule of law represented the world’s “best hope for building peaceful, prosperous societies”, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly today during an informal thematic debate convened as part of the preparatory process for the high-level meeting on the rule of law planned for 2012.

“Strengthening the rule of law worldwide is a matter of utmost urgency,” Mr. Ban said, noting that the upheavals currently taking place around the world stemmed from the failure of Governments to hear the aspirations of their people. As a universal principle formed from a bedrock belief in the supremacy of a government of laws, not of men, the rule of law was central to the modern international order.

As the world community in general and the United Nations in particular entered “a new age of accountability”, it was time to think creatively about developing a global forum for dialogue, he said. As part of that effort, he particularly welcomed the Assembly’s 2012 high-level event on the rule of law, urging States to make the rule of law a “reality for all”.

He nevertheless acknowledged that in its efforts to promote policy coherence and strategic thinking on the rule of law, the United Nations faced four main challenges. Civilian capacity was not what it should be, while the financial resources allocated for strengthening the rule of law had not matched the rhetoric touting its importance. At the same time, the community of relevant actors was fragmented, and political obstacles must be overcome.

Speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, Deputy Secretary-General Ashe Rose Migiro, in closing remarks at today’s meeting, underlined the role played by the rule of law in preventing conflict and boosting sustainable economic development. Given its proven track record in promoting international law and assisting States in implementing their international obligations, the United Nations could provide a needed policy forum that brought together all stakeholders. “Let us do our utmost to shoulder that responsibility,” she said, calling on Members States in that regard.

Two keynote addresses from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria, highlighted the importance of rule of law initiatives from, respectively, a national and an international perspective. Together, their remarks reinforced the need to align international and domestic efforts to promote justice, peace and security, particularly in countries emerging from conflict. They also suggested that the rule of law was more than just an abstract goal; rather, it directly impacted the rights and interests of individuals.

In the morning, the first of two interactive round tables, which focused on “rule of law and conflict situations”, featured a vibrant debate on harnessing traditional legal systems, even as modern rule of law mechanisms were introduced to post-conflict societies. Speakers largely rejected the notion that there was tension between the rule of law and peace, with some stressing that the rule of law was not the final result of security, but security’s very foundation. Several panellists stressed that the United Nations must strengthen its approach to the rule of law, with one calling for a rigour to the issue that matched the Organization’s devotion to promoting human rights in the wake of the Second World War.

Discussion during the second round table on “rule of law and development” highlighted justice and the rule of law as critical ingredients to an overall enabling environment for social and economic progress. Many speakers argued that addressing poverty involved ensuring that the poor were able to voice their needs, seek redress against injustice, participate in public life and influence policies that ultimately shaped their lives. Similarly, one panellist warned that any poverty reduction gains made by investing development resources in women and girls would be short lived if they were not protected by a commitment to women’s rights and justice.

The first round table was chaired by Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations and the panellists included Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations; Ernest Petrič, President of the Constitutional Court of Slovenia; and Michael von der Schulenburg, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. The second panel was chaired by Juan Manuel Gómez-Robledo, Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico. Panellists included Helen Clark, Under-Secretary-General and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women); Anne-Marie Leroy, Vice-President and Legal Counsel of the World Bank; and Athaliah Molokomme, Attorney General of Botswana.

Bringing the debate to an end and also summarizing points made throughout the day, General Assembly President Joseph Deiss (Switzerland) stressed the rule of law as the foundation of United Nations. “It really is our business,” he said, emphasizing the place of today’s interactive debate in shaping the discussion at the United Nations on rule of law in 2012.