What's In Blue

Posted Wed 11 Jan 2023

Rule of Law: Ministerial-level Open Debate

Tomorrow morning (12 January), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on the “Promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security: the rule of law among nations”. The meeting, which is a signature event of Japan’s Council presidency, will be chaired by Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hayashi Yoshimasa. The expected briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Joan E. Donoghue (via videoconference), and Dapo Akande, professor of public international law at Oxford University.

Japan has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s open debate (S/2023/1), which says that the meeting can serve as “an opportunity to have a deeper discussion on how to take action, under the United Nations framework, to ensure international peace and security through the promotion of the rule of law”. It invites member states to build on prior discussions at the UN and their own experience to share their “fundamental notions of what the world should look like from the viewpoint of the rule of law among nations, looking ahead to the Summit of the Future, to be held in 2024”.

Guterres suggested convening the “Summit of the Future”, in his 10 September 2021 report titled “Our Common Agenda”, as an event that will bring together member states, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, academia, the private sector, and youth. Speaking during a 4 August 2022 session on “Our Common Agenda” at the General Assembly, he said that the summit can serve as an opportunity to “reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles, and further develop the frameworks of multilateralism so they are fit for the future”.

The objective of tomorrow’s meeting, as expressed in the concept note, “is to reaffirm the meaning and role of the rule of law among nations and the common understanding that the rules to which all Member States have agreed must be observed by all”. The concept note highlights the adoption on 12 November 2012 of the declaration of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the rule of law at the national and international levels, which among other things, agreed “that our collective response to the challenges and opportunities arising from the many complex political, social and economic transformations before us must be guided by the rule of law” (A/RES/67/1). It also refers to the fact that the General Assembly has adopted a resolution focused on the rule of law annually since 2006.

The concept note proposes several guiding questions:

  • What is the role of the rule of law in the maintenance of peace and security?
  • What are national challenges regarding the rule of law faced by your country?
  • Are the principles of the UN Charter being challenged and, if so, which principles and rules should be reaffirmed?
  • How can the General Assembly, the Security Council, the role of the Secretary-General, the ICJ and other international systems be strengthened to promote the rule of law?

The Council has held several thematic discussions on the rule of law over the years; the first such meeting took place in 2003, and subsequent debates were held in 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2020. The last open debate on the promotion of the rule of law as a general issue (without focusing on a particular aspect of the topic) was held on 19 January 2012. In a presidential statement adopted during that debate, the Council recognised that sustainable peace requires an integrated approach that strengthens the coherence among political, security, development, human rights, and rule of law activities.

In the past decade, the Council has held several open debates that focused on specific aspects of the rule of law. For example, on 18 December 2020, the Council held an open debate on the “Promotion and strengthening of the rule of law: Strengthening the cooperation between the Security Council and the [ICJ]”. A presidential statement adopted on 21 December 2020 recognised the positive contribution of the ICJ to the rule of law at the international level, as well as its key role in adjudicating disputes, defusing tensions, and restoring peaceful relations among states.

Since 2000, the president of the ICJ has briefed the Council annually in a private meeting. The most recent such briefing took place on 26 October 2022. The briefing normally coincides with the presentation of the annual report of the ICJ to the General Assembly, which last year occurred on 27 October 2022.

Council members frequently emphasise the importance of the rule of law, and the debate may provide constructive avenues for the Council to pursue in this regard. Participants may refer to several notable developments relating to aspects of the rule of law in country-specific files on the Council’s agenda in recent years, including in relation to Syria and Myanmar and, more recently, Ukraine and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt). On the other hand, the current difficult dynamics in the Council, particularly those caused by the war in Ukraine, may make it difficult for the Council to make headway in a discussion regarding the promotion of the rule of law.

(For more information on Council discussions on the rule of law, see Security Council Report’s January 2023 Forecast brief. For further background, see our 2019 research report “The Rule of Law: Retreat from Accountability”.)

Sign up for What's In Blue emails