Press Conference on Annual Treaty Event, High-level Meeting on Rule of Law

21 September 2012

Press Conference on Annual Treaty Event, High-level Meeting on Rule of Law

21 September 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Annual Treaty Event, High-level Meeting on Rule of Law


The rule of law will take centre stage at United Nations Headquarters next week, as Heads of State and Government gather for the first-ever high-level General Assembly meeting on that topic, and for the 2012 Treaty Event to be held under the same theme, experts involved in those initiatives said at a press conference today.

“It’s the glue that holds together our system”, said Edric Selous, Director of the Rule of Law Unit in the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, explaining that the rule of law was a key foundation upon which the Organization’s three pillars — peace and security, development and human rights — were based.  “By strengthening it, we strengthen multilateralism”, he added.  Indeed, the high-level meeting on 24 September was now over-subscribed with 105 anticipated speakers, more than 40 of whom would be Heads of State and Government.

Recalling that the Assembly had acknowledged the centrality of the rule of law at the 2005 World Summit outcome, Mr. Selous said it had requested the Secretary-General last October to submit his ideas for possible outcomes of a high-level event on the topic.  In March this year, the Secretary-General had published his report, titled “Delivering Justice:  Programme of Action to Strengthen the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels”, which proposed a programme of action for Member States and the United Nations to follow over the next five years in advocating the rule of law.

The report also proposed tools for advancing the rule-of-law agenda, he continued, including goals related to the rule of law, mechanisms to strengthen dialogue — such as a consultative forum and plenary discussion — and a pledge system through which Member States would voluntarily advocate and take the lead on priorities in their national jurisdictions.  More than 100 such pledges had already been received from 30 Member States, he added.

Mr. Selous went on to say that two co-facilitators had been appointed to negotiate an outcome for the high-level event, noting that talks had been ongoing for five months.  Consensus was being reached and the final text was now with the Assembly President for expected adoption on 24 September.  The text presented a forward-looking view on advancing the rule-of-law agenda at the national and international levels, he said.  It also set out principles for the post-2015 development agenda, acknowledging that the rule of law was a “key enabler” to be considered in its design.

Accompanying Mr. Selous was Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli, Chief of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs, who said the high-level meeting would coincide with the 2012 Treaty Event, to be held at Headquarters from 24‑26 September and from 1-2 October under the theme of strengthening the rule of law.  As was customary, the Secretary-General had invited Heads of State and Government in town for the annual general debate to show their commitment to the rule of law by participating in the Treaty Event, she said, adding that 35 States had indicated their participation in ceremonies where they would sign treaties or deposit instruments of ratification.

“Treaties are a critical foundation for the rule of law,” she stressed, citing human rights, trade, disarmament, environmental protection and criminal law as key spheres in which it featured.  More than 550 multilateral treaties had been deposited with the Secretary-General, many of which were close to achieving universal participation.  By raising awareness about participating in the multilateral framework, “we can advance the mission of building a global society based on respect for the rule of law”, she said.  Since the first Treaty Event in 2000, 1,679 treaty actions — signature, acceptance, approval or accession — had been taken, which demonstrated the consent of States to be bound by, and their willingness to undertake, treaty obligations.

Asked whether the high-level event would define the rule of law, Mr. Selous said the “definition issue” had been discussed at length, noting that the Secretary-General proposed a definition in his 2004 report.  While the Sixth Committee (Legal) had not endorsed that definition, it had recognized elements of it.  Similarly, in the draft outcome document for the upcoming high-level meeting, States had defined elements of the rule of law by acknowledging that all individual entities, including States, were to be subject to just and equitable laws.

The draft also set out core principles and “subject areas” in which the rule of law was most pertinent, he said, identifying existing systems, such as the International Court of Justice and other dispute-resolution bodies, which demonstrated the rule of law in practice.  More broadly, the debate over the rule of law centred on its application at the national and international levels, he said, adding that, for its part, the Secretariat promoted the incorporation of international norms and standards into national systems and institutions.

Responding to another question, Ms. Goettsche-Wanli said some treaties were only open to United Nations Member States, while others were also open to regional or economic-integration organizations.  Asked whether the Holy See or Palestine could sign up to treaties, she said participation by any entity depended on the relevant clause of the treaty concerned.

Mr. Selous reiterated the Secretary-General’s belief that the rule of law should be central to the administration of the United Nations, including the new justice system and the office of the Ombudsman.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.