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Rule of law without human rights is an empty shell

In the first meeting of its kind, world leaders, ministers of justice, prosecutors, UN officials and representatives of civil society convened on 24 September at the United Nations in New York to discuss exclusively measures for strengthening the rule of law.

The UN General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law at the National and International Level adopted a declaration reaffirming that human rights, the rule of law and democracy were interlinked and mutually reinforcing core values of the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for concrete action towards equal application of the law at national and international levels; upholding the highest stands of rule of law in decision making; accepting the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and supporting UN initiatives in the field of rule of law.

“Strengthening the rule of law is for every country and is in everyone’s interest.  It is as essential within countries as it is among the family of nations,” he said.

Drawing on her personal experience of growing up under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where legislation served to institutionalise injustice, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “the rule of law without human rights is only an empty shell”. At the same time, “the rule of law constitutes the backbone for the legal protection of human rights”.

The UN Human Rights Office, with 58 field offices around the world, works with national actors to build strong and responsive institutions necessary for effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

“We also support the establishment and functioning of comprehensive accountability frameworks to address human rights violations, including transitional justice mechanisms compliant with international standards and norms,” said the High Commissioner.

She emphasized the importance of national ownership of rule of law principles. National action and international support to strengthen the rule of law must be based on international human rights law. In this context, she urged Member States to ratify outstanding international human rights treaties, to withdraw reservations, and to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, pledged to work with Member States to ensure that the UN General Assembly “sharpens its focus on the effective implementation of best practices in the rule of law.”

A number of countries made voluntary pledges to strengthen the rule of law, ranging from reforming their laws and ratifying human rights and humanitarian law treaties to supporting UN and regional initiatives on the rule law.

5 October 2012

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