The rule of law is both an aim in itself and a means to achieving an aim. That is the aim of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world. Peace and security, development, human rights, the rule of law and democracy go hand in hand. They are among the universal and indivisible core values of the United Nations. Against this background, Norway fully supports the inclusion of this item on the agenda of the General Assembly.
We warmly welcome the adoption of last year’s resolution, which highlights some key issues in relation to the rule of law that Member States may address in the General Assembly. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to make a few comments on the promotion of the rule of law at the international level. In doing so, we fully recognise that issues pertaining to the rule of law at the international level cannot be considered in isolation from rule of law issues at the national level. For instance, a state’s ability to observe its international obligations depends, to a certain extent, on if and how those obligations have been implemented in domestic law.
It could be useful to remind ourselves of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, in which we all agreed that our engagement should be rooted in respect for the Charter and international law, the need for an effective multilateral system, respect for the sovereign equality of states, the need to resolve disputes by peaceful means, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the recognition that protection from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is also the responsibility of the international community as such.
States protect their interests through the conclusion of bilateral and multilateral agreements with other states. They recognise the need to establish clarity, certainty and predictability in their international relations. All states undertake treaty obligations for a reason. If international obligations are not honoured by a state, that state runs the risk of other states taking counter measures or presenting claims for compensation. A state’s lack of respect for international law may thus undermine its ability to protect its own interests. Therefore, all states, whether big or small, have a genuine self interest in fully respecting their international obligations and being perceived as a responsible actor on the international stage. In other words, it is in every state’s interest to promote the rule of law at the international level.
A vital question for us in this regard is how support and respect for international law can be strengthened. We believe that a key factor is strengthening the sense of ownership of international law. Although a state must explicitly consent to being bound by treaty obligations, we see how important it is to ensure that treaties, which are essentially universal, are developed within a framework where all states have the opportunity to present their views and needs. An open and inclusive negotiating process will serve to strengthen all states’ ownership of the end product and hopefully lead to increased support and respect for the treaty in question. There are at least two concrete conclusions that can be drawn from this observation. First, there must be an arena, a level playing field, which is accessible for all states. The United Nations provides such an arena and we should all aim at strengthening its role in this respect. Second, all participants must have the opportunity and capacity to contribute meaningfully to the discussions in this arena, so that they can exert a real influence. In this regard, we commend all the parts of the UN that are involved in capacity-building to that end.
It is furthermore important to ensure that the final outcome of such negotiations, i.e. the treaty text itself, is clear and unambiguous and that it reflects the common understanding of the treaty’s object and purpose.
This being said, Mr Chairman, we see an obvious need for effective mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution between states. The International Court of Justice provides an underused opportunity in this regard. Norway has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, and we invite all states that have not yet done so to do the same. In this regard we would like to highlight the efforts of the Council of Europe Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI) to promote broader acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court. It is encouraging that the International Court of Justice is now considering a larger number of cases on a broad range of aspects of public international law. This trend towards greater utilisation of the Court should be continued.
We would also like to acknowledge the crucial contributions of the international ad hoc criminal tribunals in upholding justice and the rule of law. Today, the prevailing view in all quarters is that there should be no impunity for serious crimes. We are pleased that the International Criminal Court began its first trial this year. Norway encourages all states that haven’t done so to ratify the Rome Statute, and we urge all states to cooperate fully with the Court in accordance with their obligations.
The many violations of international humanitarian law over the last few years are a cause for grave concern. The lack of protection of civilians in conflict, increased targeting of civilians and the use of sexual violence as a method of warfare are just a few examples of the serious challenges we face. There is an urgent need to work, in many different forums, towards greater respect for international humanitarian law. This includes a renewed focus on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and on preventing violations of international humanitarian law.
It is vital that international organisations also respect the rule of law. In Norway’s view, the UN and the Security Council should set an example in this regard by scrupulously adhering to the Charter and international law.
Finally, let me say a few words about the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit. Norway welcomes the establishment of these bodies, with a view to improving coordination and coherence in the UN’s rule of law activities. In our view, these bodies will help to improve the effectiveness of the UN, lead to synergies and reduce duplication of work. We have taken note of the activities carried out so far, with great interest, and we look forward to further steps to implement the Joint Strategic Plan for 2009 – 2011. We also commend the transparency and openness that characterise the work of the two bodies, and encourage them to continue their practice of open consultations with Members States. It is important to ensure that the Rule of Law Unit is provided with the necessary financial and human resources to carry out its important tasks in a proper manner.