Rule of Law ‘All that Stands’ between Peace, Stability and Brutal Struggle for Power, Resources, Secretary-General Says, Opening All-Day Debate.
Increased State consent to the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and compliance with its decisions would strengthen the rule of law, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today during its open debate centred on the rule of law among nations, as speakers subsequently offered differing visions of how best to govern international relations and settle disputes.
Opening the meeting, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that “from the smallest village to the global stage, the rule of law is all that stands between peace and stability and a brutal struggle for power and resources”. While today’s open debate sends a strong message that all States must adhere to international standards, the state of the world shows that the international community has far to go in this regard. “We are at a grave risk of the rule of lawlessness,” he stressed, highlighting the flouting of international law in Ukraine, Israel, Palestine, the Sahel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Haiti.
“Disputes in one area must not prevent progress elsewhere,” he stressed, urging Member States to support United Nations efforts to promote the rule of law — including in the Council. The Organization is in a unique position to promote innovation and progress in respecting the rule of law, as no other global entity has the legitimacy, capacity to bring people together or normative power of the United Nations. Adding that the International Court of Justice occupies a special place with its unique mandate, he called on all Member States to accept its compulsory jurisdiction.
The Court’s President, Joan E. Donoghue, then told the Council that engagement with international dispute settlement means more than accepting jurisdiction, as States must also participate in proceedings brought against them. Further, the rule of law requires States to comply with decisions of international courts and tribunals that are binding on them — even if they disagree with the ruling. While doing so may appear more difficult for national leaders than simply reciting the importance of the rule of law, States’ long-term strategic interests are best served by fostering a robust system of international adjudication, she stressed.
Also briefing the Council was Dapo Akande, professor of public international law at the University of Oxford, who similarly pointed out that international tribunals can only act where States provide consent. Expressing concern over a declining tendency for States to consent to the Court’s jurisdiction — noting that only 73 have expressly recognized the same — he stressed that increased acceptance of such jurisdiction would mark an important advancement in the rule of law and contribute to the maintenance of peace. He went on to point out that, while the Council must ensure that international law is observed, that responsibility ultimately falls on individual Council members — who must ensure the body collectively does so.
In the ensuing debate, many of the over 70 ministers, senior officials and representatives echoed sentiments expressed during the briefing, underlining the key role played by international courts and tribunals in ensuring respect for the rule of law. Many also expressed support for Council reform, particularly the need for increased scrutiny where the use of the veto is concerned. Dominating the discussion, though, were national viewpoints as to what exactly the rule of law — as applied to States in an international setting — entails against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine.
Yoshimasa Hayashi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan — serving as Council President for January — said that the rule of law is intrinsically linked with the Council’s responsibility, can only be upheld through multilateralism and should be anchored in trust. Further, the rule of law does not allow any country to rewrite borders by force, he stressed, adding that such action cannot be justified through arbitrary interpretations of the Charter of the United Nations or international law.
David Rutley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom, noted that, despite serious commitment by many, certain countries continue to demonstrate disregard for the rules-based international order and the rule of law — spotlighting, among others, the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. He called on the international community to reiterate support for the Charter and the rule of law, strengthen the rules-based international order and send a clear message that efforts to undermine the same will not be tolerated.
China’s representative, however, questioned the phrase “rules-based international order”, which he called an ambiguous formulation. Noting that this wording is not found in the Charter or in resolutions adopted by the General Assembly or Security Council, he said that the use of such an approach has plunged the world into chaos and likely results from the intention of a few countries to impose their will on others. All countries must engage in international rulemaking, he added, which must not be the prerogative of a few countries.
Similarly, the representative of the Russian Federation said that the Western concept of the “rules-based order” — where rules are made by the West — is in line with neither truth nor the norms of international law. He stressed that international law and the Charter will prevail over pseudo-concepts such as the rules-based order and “systems that divvy up States into the goodies and the baddies”, urging focus on maintaining and protecting systems of international law built around the Charter.
Highlighting an adjacent issue, the representative of Egypt expressed concern over continuing attempts by some States to impose concepts and measures that do not enjoy international consensus on other countries. Each society is unique, he stressed, adding that these recurring attempts only jeopardize respect for the rule of law at the international level. He also underscored the need to reform the Council to ensure equitable representation and end the historic injustice inflicted upon Africa.
India’s delegate, meanwhile, said that a rules-based international order is free of coercion and based on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, transparency and peaceful resolution of disputes. She also urged the reform of international institutions of global governance — including those charged with maintaining peace and security — as debates on strengthening the rule of law while holding onto anachronistic structures that lack representative legitimacy serve little purpose in achieving this aim.
Mexico’s representative, noting that all conflicts have a component connected to the breakdown of the rule of law in a region, pointed out that Article 51 of the Charter has been invoked in ways that exacerbate conflict and that the prohibition against the use of force against States has been violated. Meanwhile, the Council has been paralyzed by political divisions and the abuse of the veto, he said, asking States to join the veto initiative proposed by his delegation and France. He added that it is crucial to strengthen all United Nations bodies and their ability to enforce the rule of law, including the courts and their advisory functions.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also placed the spotlight on the Council, calling on members to refrain from using their right of veto in cases of mass atrocities and to use its right of referral. Permanent Council members — vested with special privileges that should mirror special responsibilities — should serve as models in implementing the Charter, he stressed, adding that “international law cannot be a spider web that catches the small but misses the powerful”.
Also speaking today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Switzerland, Ecuador, United States, United Arab Emirates, Malta, Albania, France, Brazil, Mozambique, Gabon, Ghana, Cabo Verde, Panama, Ukraine, Poland, Jordan, Singapore, Romania, Italy, Indonesia, Austria (also for the Group of Friends of the Rule of Law), Estonia, Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea, Armenia, Lebanon, Greece, Denmark (also for Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), Pakistan, Philippines (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Türkiye, Germany, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Slovenia, Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Iran, Portugal, Luxembourg (also for Belgium and the Netherlands), Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Latvia, Chile, Ireland, Maldives, Nepal, Lithuania, Myanmar, Kenya, Argentina, Eritrea, New Zealand, Malaysia, Nigeria, Georgia, Kuwait, Qatar, Serbia, Mongolia, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Canada and North Macedonia, along with an observer for the State of Palestine.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m., suspended at 12:59 p.m., resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 7:56 p.m.