Rule of law at the national and international levels
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The United Nations is engaged in an ongoing process to strengthen its approaches to rule of law engagement at the national and international levels. The work of the UN on rule of law is mostly based operationally on technical assistance and capacity-building carried out for the benefit of Member States, at their request and/or as mandated by the Security Council, and in accordance with national policies, priorities and plans. UN rule of law assistance is based normatively on the Charter of the United Nations and international norms and standards, including the host of UN treaties, declarations, guidelines and principles developed in furtherance of the rule of law.
The Secretary-General has defined the guiding principles and framework for UN rule of law activities at the national level that apply in all circumstances, including in crisis, post-crisis, conflict-prevention, conflict, post-conflict and peacebuilding, as well as in development contexts. The UN’s responsibility is to help establish the rule of law for all on the basis of equality and non-discrimination, with due attention to the rights and specific vulnerabilities of groups subject to marginalization.
Strengthening the rule of law at the national level is a difficult, complex and long-term task, the success of which depends on the commitment of the national communities with whom the UN works. Rule of law programming requires in-depth understanding of the political context and grounding in national assessments, needs and aspirations. Leadership and decision-making for the programme must be in the hands of national stakeholders. Political will on the part of national authorities is essential. National ownership also involves public consultation based on the principles of inclusion, participation, transparency and accountability. A key part of UN rule of law engagement is support for reform constituencies and the legal empowerment of all sectors of society so that all voices can be heard when national priorities are being set.
The UN common approach to rule of law at the national level emphasizes strategic considerations and partnerships. It involves all relevant UN entities jointly conducting thorough assessments with the full and meaningful participation of national stakeholders to determine rule of law needs and challenges; supporting the development of a comprehensive rule of law strategy based on the results of the assessment; developing a joint UN rule of law programme guided by the strategy; and assigning accountabilities and implementation responsibilities. Effective coordination and strong partnerships with other rule of law stakeholders are also key aspects of the approach.
The UN is currently developing a common approach to strengthening the rule of law at the international level, which involves respect for the Charter of the United Nations and international law, and is premised on shared fundamental principles and values long supported by Member States. The principle of the rule of law is relevant to governance of State to State relations, and, as with rule of law at the national level, progress towards rule of law at the international level is an on-going endeavor. It requires participation in, and effective national implementation of, the main bodies of international law at the national and international levels. UN rule of law activities aim to find better ways to support Member States to achieve compliance with international obligations, to ensure the domestic implementation of international norms and standards, and, most critically, to strengthen the institutions, policies, processes and conditions that ensure an effective and just national and international order.
In his report Strengthening and coordinating United Nations rule of law activities (A/63/226), the Secretary-General requested the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit to “initiate a dialogue with Member States on strengthening promotion of the rule of law at the international level.” The first panel discussion in this ongoing dialogue was held at the UN in New York on 15 June 2009.