the rule of law

Kofi Annan
United Nations Secretary-General

“No one is above the law, and no one should be denied its protection...

The rule of law starts at home. But in too many places it remains elusive. Hatred, corruption, violence and exclusion go without redress. The vulnerable lack effective recourse, while the powerful manipulate laws to retain power and accumulate wealth....

At the international level, all states – strong and weak, big and small – need a framework of fair rules, which each can be confident that others will obey. Fortunately, such a framework exists. From trade to terrorism, from the law of the sea to weapons of mass destruction, States have created an impressive body of norms and laws. This is one of the United Nations proudest achievements.

And yet this framework is riddled with gaps and weaknesses. Too often it is applied selectively, and enforced arbitrarily. It lacks the teeth that turn a body of laws into an effective legal system....

Just as, within a country, respect for the law depends on the sense that all have a say in making and implementing it, so it is in our global community. No nation must feel excluded. All must feel that international law belongs to them, and protects their legitimate interests.

Rule of law as a mere concept is not enough. Laws must be put into practice, and permeate the fabric of our lives....

Throughout the world, the victims of violence and injustice are waiting: waiting for us to keep our word. They notice when we use words to mask inaction. They notice when laws that should protect them are not applied.

I believe we can restore and extend the rule of law throughout the world. But ultimately, that will depend on the hold that the law has on our consciences. The organization was founded in the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind. Today we must look again into our collective conscience and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough.

Each generation has its part to play in the age-long struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all – which alone can guarantee freedom for all. Let our generation not be found wanting.”

Taken from the Address to the General Assembly, New York, 21 September 2004.

UN Photo: Mark Garten

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Strengthening the rule of law | Partners in law | Justice can be shortsighted | Force of law | A matter of judgement | A law of energy | People | Rule of man, or rule of law? | At a glance: The rule of law | Sebastião Salgado | Sustainable development comes from Saturn! | One planet, different worlds | Nature’s wisdom | Kickback fightback | Conflict and cooperation | Holistic landmark | Empowering the poor | Legal climate | Small is effective | Building the framework

Complementary issues:
Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment 2003
World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002