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GA/L/3621
20 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 8th Meeting (PM)

Efforts to Strengthen, Promote Rule of Law impacted by 'Game-Changer' Pandemic, Senior Official Tells Sixth Committee, as Debate on Principle Continues

As the Sixth Committee (Legal) continued its debate on the rule of law at the national and international levels today, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Strategic Coordination introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the topic, describing the challenges of promoting the rule of law and fighting corruption in the face of emerging realities such as the COVID‑19 pandemic.  (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3620.)

Volker Türk, presenting the report (document A/75/284), called COVID‑19 a “game‑changer” and underscored that the world was now facing some of the most massive peace, security, development and humanitarian challenges since the United Nations was formed 75 years ago.  Yet, even before the pandemic, deep divisions, political polarization and dysfunctional, underfunded institutions have challenged the rule of law in a number of countries.  This underscores the centrality of the rule of law, he cautioned, underscoring that a world in which so many are left behind is destined to endure continued instability and pain.

However, he pointed to how the Organization has strengthened its efforts on all continents, including the provision of remote alternatives to accessing justice and of policy advice to national authorities on privacy and data protection.  It was of great importance, he stressed, that the pandemic must prompt the international community to develop more resilient governance models to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and to deliver climate action.

The representative of Burkina Faso, providing context for how important support from the United Nations has been, welcomed its efforts to strengthen judicial institutions, promote good governance and increase access to justice in his country and others.  Despite the security crisis Burkina Faso has been facing since 2015, its commitment to pursuing the rule of law has only grown stronger.  He called for the United Nations to continue supporting the development of the rule of law, “a bellwether of sustainable development and peace”.

Australia’s representative, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, pointed out that the COVID‑19 pandemic has been exploited to undermine the rule of law, either through blatant violations thereof or through taking advantage of “gray spaces” where the law was uncertain or unsettled.  Threats like malicious cyberactivity against the health‑care sector during the pandemic underscored the importance of States working together to defend and strengthen the rule of law.   International law must continue to be applied regardless of technological developments.

However, the representative of Nepal observed that Governments may compromise fundamental rights when they establish emergency measures and restrictions to tackle the COVID‑19 pandemic.  The mass mobilization of public resources for mitigation measures could amplify the risk of fraud and corruption, and adverse impacts on the legal system could inhibit access to justice.  “It is hard to defend and sustain democracies within the borders of nations if the global community of nations is dominated by undemocratic mechanisms,” he stressed.

Lebanon’s representative also highlighted the ills of corruption, noting its devastating effect on the financial, economic and political dimensions of society. For its part, his country has worked to combat public sector corruption domestically and is cooperating with the United Nations Development Programme to launch a national anti‑corruption strategy over the next five years.

The representative of Serbia, describing her country’s efforts to combat corruption, spotlighted Serbia’s national law protecting whistle‑blowers, noting that the legislation was now considered by the international community as the gold standard in that regard.  As well, domestic efforts to suppress corruption have pushed Serbia forward in its membership negotiations with the European Union, she added.

The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 22 October, to conclude its discussion on the rule of law at the national and international levels and to begin its consideration of the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.

Introduction to Report

VOLKER TÜRK, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on “The rule of law at the national and international levels” (document A/75/284).  Calling COVID-19 a huge “game-changer”, he said the world was facing some of the most massive peace, security, development and humanitarian challenges since the beginning of the United Nations 75 years ago.  The Organization’s response encompassed a large-scale health response; wide-ranging efforts to safeguard lives and livelihoods; an all-out effort for a global ceasefire; as well as a collaborative approach to tackle the consequences of the pandemic through a transformative recovery process.  Stressing that all of this has brought home the centrality of the rule of law, he cautioned that a world in which so many people are being left behind is a world destined to endure continued instability and pain.

Stressing the near-total overlap between Sustainable Development Goals and human rights instruments, he noted the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights which focuses in particular on areas where people are most at risk.  Even before the pandemic, rule of law in a number of countries has been challenged by deep divisions and entrenched political polarization, as well as dysfunctional, underfunded institutions.  This year’s report described how the Organization strengthened efforts in all continents, including with regard to COVID-19.  Noting measures such as remote alternatives to accessing justice and providing policy advice to national authorities on privacy and data protection in the application of digital solutions, he added that the Organization also worked with authorities on health protocols in prisons and decongesting detention facilities.  The report also underscored the importance of international solidarity, the unique role of inter-governmental bodies and the multilateral system.  

The pandemic must prompt the international community to develop more resilient governance models to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and to deliver climate action, he emphasized, adding that in the twenty-first century, climate change is comparable to last century’s nuclear arms race.  That calls for an acceptance of responsibility, which in turn needs to be translated into concrete and collective action.  Yet, all too often the debate around these issues is characterized by “thinking inside an old box”, he noted with regret.  He urged delegates to reflect on what type of international, regional and national governance and rule of law structures are needed to take into account global responsibilities and inter-generational rights and justice, especially on climate action, the environment and biodiversity.

Rule of Law Statements

The representative of Australia, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has been exploited to carry out activities that undermine the rule of law.  Some of these activities are blatant violations thereof, while others take advantage of “gray spaces” where the law is uncertain or unsettled.  Such actions include malicious cyberactivity against the health‑care sector during the pandemic.  These challenges underscore the importance of States working together to defend and strengthen the rule of law and confirming that international law continues to apply today and tomorrow regardless of technological developments.  He urged States to consider how existing treaties and well-established legal principles apply to emerging technology.  He also called on States to recognize the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and to become parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The representative of Ghana, associating herself with the African Group, noted with appreciation the Organization’s efforts in building capable and accountable justice systems to provide access to justice for marginalized groups.  Underscoring the central role of the justice sector to national life, whether in peace or during crisis, she said that her Government introduced a raft of legal interventions relating to public health and immigration to guide the country during the pandemic.  The Government also mobilized the police and other law enforcement agencies to enforce social distancing, bring offenders to justice and contact and trace COVID-19 patients.  As well, many prisoners have been processed for release to avoid overcrowding in prisons, she said, adding that Ghana is in the process of amending its penal code to tackle corruption.

The representative of Nepal said people’s fundamental rights may be compromised when Governments put in place emergency measures and restrictions to tackle the COVID19-pandemic.  Moreover, the mobilization of huge public resources for mitigation measures could amplify the risk of fraud and corruption.  Moreover, adverse impacts to the legal system may lead to serious gaps in people’s ability to access justice.  Nepal has taken a number of measures to ensure good governance, including the introduction in 2018 of a Criminal Procedure Code and Civil Code which strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability.  Noting that all nations, regardless of their size or state of development, must abide by the international legal system, he said:  “It is hard to defend and sustain democracies within the borders of nations, if the global community of nations is dominated by undemocratic mechanisms.”

The representative of Guatemala called for a frank, open debate to increase the consistency and efficiency of United Nations assistance to strengthen the rule of law.  However, he emphasized that such discussions must respect the sovereign decisions of States.  He also outlined various Government initiatives aimed at strengthening the rule of law at the national level, including a strategy to guarantee access to justice by ensuring judicial independence.  An important principle of rule of law at the international level was the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Highlighting the important role of the International Court of Justice in this process, he noted that the Court is currently hearing a dispute between Guatemala and Belize which aims at arriving at a settlement on the basis of international law that will please both States.

The representative of Croatia, aligning himself with the European Union, said the pandemic created opportunities for corruption while the mechanisms meant to prevent and combat corruption were suspended during lockdowns.  To promote integrity and prevent corruption in the public sector, his country’s Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime and a unique police department within the Ministry of the Interior — the Police National Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime — were created.  In addition, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Strategy for the 2015-2020 period set out priorities and objectives to expand and strengthen anti-corruption mechanisms.  Mechanisms to strengthen the accountability and integrity of civil servants, for example, were created through the Code of Ethics for Civil Servants.  In February 2019, the Law on Protection of Reporters of Irregularities (the so-called Whistle-blower Protection Act) was adopted to foster reliable reporting of illegal activities and protect the whistle‑blower.  At the international level, Croatia is a State party to all relevant international instruments and mechanisms that aim to fight and eliminate corruption.

The representative of Viet Nam, associating himself with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that protecting the most vulnerable, eliminating inequality within and among States and ensuring respect for international commitments are key components of the efforts to respond to the pandemic and build back better.  Voicing appreciation for the Organization’s efforts to support Member States as well as regional and subregional organizations in strengthening the rule of law at their request, he said that members of ASEAN are committed to ensuring stability and rule of law in their region.  Highlighting the maritime, navigation and trade connections between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, he voiced concern about recent complicated developments that have eroded trust and increased tension.  Calling on all parties to fully respect international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas 1982, he also stressed the importance of battling corruption domestically.

The representative of Lebanon said that last October, people from all over his country took to the streets to demand change with greater transparency, accountability and good governance through robust reforms.  Noting the key challenge of preventing and combating all forms of corruption, he highlighted its devastating effect on the financial, economic and political dimensions of society.  Efforts have included creating a National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate allegations of corruption in the public sector and oversee the enforcement and compliance of laws.  The Government also cooperated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in launching its first-ever Anti-Corruption National Strategy for 2020-2025.  He added that a special office will receive and process complaints, helping to expose corruption and misconduct in the public sector and provide protection for whistle-blowers.

The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said, in regards to the subtopic, “measures to prevent and combat corruption” his country had ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in September 2009 and has been implementing the Anti-Corruption Strategy Towards 2020, adopted in 2012.  These efforts aimed to counter corruption, bureaucracy and extravagance.  In addition, the Prime Minister’s Decree on the Adoption and Implementation of Anti-Corruption Strategy has been translated into various laws and policy documents, including programmes and action plans for 2016–2020.  The Government also has made considerable progress in implementing the Legal Sector Master Plan, the Anti-Corruption Strategy and the Five-year Action Plans.  Yet much more work is needed, he said, adding that his delegation looked forward to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Corruption, scheduled for June 2021.

The representative of Qatar said that the rule of law is a lynchpin to upholding the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including that of sovereign equality.  He condemned the use of coercive measures in international relations to suppress States’ sovereign decisions as serious violations of the rule of law at the international level.  He added that the unlawful blockade imposed on Qatar for the past three years violates the Charter and the rule of law and threatens peace and security.  To enforce the rule of law, those responsible for serious violations of international law should be held accountable.  Further, he expressed his support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the necessary financial resources be provided to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution in Syria.

The representative of Japan noted that rule of law is an essential foundation of an international order, enabling equitable relations among nations while ensuring a fair and just society domestically.  Her country has contributed to reinforcing the functioning of international judicial organizations, notably the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Criminal Court, through the provision of both human and financial resources.  Emphasizing the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and of the peaceful resolution of international maritime disputes, she noted that Japan has taken a leadership role in promoting the rule of law in the marine field.  Recalling that at the ASEAN-related Summit Meetings in 2019, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the maritime order in accordance with the principles of international laws, she also voiced support for the International Criminal Court in its fight to end impunity.

The representative of Togo, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and African Group, welcomed the Committee’s focus on measures aimed at combatting corruption, which was an obstacle to good governance and the harmonious development of countries.  To combat this scourge, which ravages the economies of developing countries in particular, a number of international instruments were put into place.  He outlined Government measures to implement these agreements on a national level, including the adoption of a new criminal code and the creation of a high authority dedicated to fighting corruption and related crimes.  Further, over the past year, the Togolese Legislature adopted more than 20 laws relating to, inter alia, protecting personal data, the safe and secure use of nuclear energy, the use of biometric identification and school meals.  These measures strengthen existing laws and demonstrate legislative momentum despite the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

The representative of Serbia, aligning herself with the European Union, said that her country is actively investing in measures to prevent and combat corruption.  Stressing the importance of prevention, she said that Serbia is aiming to improve transparency, implementing increased oversight and control over the exercise of public authority by public officials and education for citizens about the damage caused by the corruption.  The suppression of corruption helped create a business-friendly environment, in particular in pushing her country further forward in the negotiation process for its full membership to the European Union.  Highlighting the new corruption prevention law adopted last year, she said that law was harmonized with the Council of Europe's recommendations.  Further, the whistle-blower protection law enforced in June 2019 has been characterized as the gold standard by the international community.  

The representative of Burkina Faso, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, welcomed the Organization’s support to countries to strengthen judicial institutions, promote good governance and increase access to justice.  He also detailed Government measures to promote transparent and free elections.  Since 2015, Burkina Faso has faced an unprecedented security crisis that has led to mass displacement.  This situation, however, has only strengthened the country’s commitment to pursue the rule of law, he stressed, adding that the principle was fundamental to fighting corruption and strengthening social cohesion.  He called for the United Nations to continue supporting the development of the rule of law, “a bellwether of sustainable development and peace”.

The representative of Ecuador, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that her country was a constitutional State that deemed the rule of law to be a basic pillar for peaceful coexistence between citizens and nations.  Ecuador guaranteed the same rights to its whole population, without differentiating between nationals and foreigners.  In the same vein, her Government also acknowledged the sovereign equality of all States.  As well, the highest priority was being given to implementing international conventions and instruments that protect human rights.  Corruption represented a moral and ethical problem that jeopardized the achievement of sustainable development.  Underscoring the immorality of money laundering and the overseas transfer of unlawfully acquired funds and assets, she said that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, such actions were criminal because they affected the most vulnerable groups of people.

Also speaking today were the representatives of India, China, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Israel, Egypt, Cuba, Georgia, Republic of Korea, Colombia, Senegal, United Kingdom, South Africa and Mexico.

For information media. Not an official record.