Rule of Law
Expected Council Action
An open debate on the maintenance of international peace and security with an emphasis on the Council’s role in upholding international law within the context of peace and security is planned in May. The Secretary-General is expected to brief the Council, and Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, is expected to preside. No outcome is expected, but a note summarising the debate will be circulated to the wider membership.
In recent years, rule of law and justice issues have gained prominence in Council thinking and discussions about long-term solutions. They have also influenced the design of the UN’s operations in the field and are now part of mainstream Council discussion and action.
Rule of law and international justice issues have also become a focus in a number of other thematic issues in the Council—such as protection of civilians; children and armed conflict; and women, peace and security—and are referred to when the Council resorts to sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
The Council held its first thematic debate on the rule of law in 2003, followed by debates in 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012. The last open debate on the rule of law as a general issue (without focusing on any particular aspect of it) was held on 19 January 2012. In a presidential statement following the debate, the Council recognised that sustainable peacebuilding requires an integrated approach that strengthens the coherence between political, security, development, human rights and rule of law activities. It also reaffirmed its opposition to impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
On 30 January 2013, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the Council on rule of law, however the meeting was not open to participation by the wider membership and the discussion took place in consultations. On 19 February 2014, the Council held an open debate on the role of the rule of law in peacekeeping operations, chaired by the foreign minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius. The Secretary-General briefed the Council, and representatives of 64 member states, the EU and Palestine participated. Two days later, the Council adopted a presidential statement underlining the importance for peacekeeping operations and special political missions to support the strengthening of rule of law institutions in their host countries within the scope of their mandates.
Key Developments since the 2014 Debate
Several developments relating to various aspects of the rule of law have taken place in the Council since it last met to discuss the rule of law as a general issue.
On 22 May 2014, France, with the support of eight other Council members, tabled a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. The referral was prompted by reports of widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, pro-government militias, and non-state armed groups. Cosponsored by 65 states, the draft resolution was put to a vote on 22 May but was vetoed by China and Russia, with 13 votes in favour.
Further on Syria, on 21 December 2016, the General Assembly established a mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for crimes under international law committed in Syria since March 2011.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) officially closed on 31 December 2015, after delivering its final judgment on appeal on 14 December 2015. During its two decades, the ICTR sentenced 61 people to terms of up to life imprisonment, acquitted 14 and referred ten others to national jurisdictions. The Council issued a press statement on 31 December, acknowledging the ICTR’s substantial contribution and calling upon all states to cooperate with the Residual Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals now responsible for the arrest and prosecution of the eight remaining ICTR-indicted fugitives.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) officially closed on 31 December 2017, after delivering its final judgement on 15 December 2017. During its existence, the ICTY concluded proceedings against 161 persons indicted, with 90 individuals sentenced, 19 acquitted, 13 referred to a national jurisdiction, 37 whose indictments were withdrawn or who are deceased, and two with retrials to be conducted by the Residual Mechanism.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues Poland hopes members will focus on during the debate include:
- enhancing the Council’s efforts on the pacific settlement of disputes, including by binding legal procedures such as arbitration and adjudication, in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Member states can encourage the Council to consider and recommend, when appropriate, that parties to a particular dispute resolve it through legal means, and in particular before the International Court of Justice;
- the Council’s role in upholding international law in the context of international peace and security, particularly international humanitarian law and human rights law. Member states may highlight the Council’s responsibility to overcome disagreement between its members and restore peace and security in ongoing conflicts where such violations are being committed;
- the Council’s role in ensuring accountability for international crimes, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Member states may suggest that the Council consider more frequent use of the tools at its disposal, such as commissions of inquiry or referrals to the ICC; and
- compliance with the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Member states may emphasise that the Council has been given the unique power to authorise collective security measures under the UN Charter, and that this creates both obligations on member states wishing to act unilaterally but also an onus on the Council to take the action necessary to restore international peace and security.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Poland sees the open debate, the centrepiece of its presidency, as an opportunity to reflect on some of the key issues mentioned above, with the idea of having a practical debate generating concrete ideas about how to advance these issues. On the issue of compliance with Council resolutions, it wants to raise awareness that some states do not have the capacity to implement all Council resolutions and the ways other states can assist them.
One concern over discussing issues such as compliance with the UN Charter and international human rights is that members might focus on recent events in Syria following the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in Eastern Ghouta and the airstrikes by France, the UK and the US on chemical weapons storage and production facilities in Syria at the expense of other rule of law issues. This could make it difficult to have a fruitful discussion about wider rule of law issues.
UN Documents on Rule of Law
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|21 February 2014 S/PRST/2014/5||This presidential statement underlined the importance of support to strengthening the rule of law institutions of the host country by a number of peacekeeping operations and special political missions within the scope of their mandates.|
|19 January 2012 S/PRST/2012/1||The Council adopted a statement on justice and the rule of law as “an indispensable element for peaceful coexistence and the prevention of armed conflict.”|
|11 June 2013 S/2013/341||This was the annual rule of law report on measuring the effectiveness of the support provided by the UN for the promotion of the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict situations.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 February 2014 S/PV.7113||This was an open debate on the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security”, chaired by the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius|
|22 May 2014 S/2014/348||This was the French draft resolution referring Syria to the ICC, co-sponsored by 65 member states, vetoed by China and Russia. All other Council members voted in favour of the referral.|