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    19 November 1999
    Secretary-General Flags Progress, Problems,
    As International Law Decade Ends


    NEW YORK, 18 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General Hans Corell, to mark the closing of the United Nations Decade of International Law delivered at Headquarters yesterday, 17 November:

     I am pleased to convey my warm greetings to this distinguished audience gathered to mark the end of the United Nations Decade of International Law.  This has been a decade characterized by genuine and lasting progress.  The underlying goal of the Decade was to promote the rule of law by promoting the means and methods for the peaceful settlement of disputes between States; by encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification; and by encouraging the teaching, study, dissemination and wider appreciation of international law. 

     The response of the international community to this noble aim has been highly commendable.  International organizations and institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, have undertaken a wide range of activities.  Not being able to list all the events which took place during the Decade, I would like to mention perhaps the most important example of the Decade’s achievements:  the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The establishment of the Court will constitute a giant step in the development of an effective system of enforcement of international law and combating the most heinous crimes known to mankind.  

     The 1990s have also witnessed the proliferation of regional and subregional mechanisms to supplement existing global legal frameworks. Specific examples include the regional human rights mechanisms established under the auspices of the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe and the Organization of African Unity.  In the area of the peaceful settlement of disputes, the Decade has witnessed the increased role played by the International Court of Justice and the reconfirmation of its importance as the principal judicial organ of the Organization.

     An important and fitting contribution to the closing of the Decade of International Law was provided by the Centennial celebrations of the First International Peace Conference.  The results of the discussions held in The Hague and St. Petersburg not only significantly advanced the themes of the First Peace Conference, but also helped energize a vital global debate on the role of the United Nations in preventing conflict and halting gross and systematic violations of human rights.  The discussions have underscored the need for a more determined approach to preventive measures in order to achieve the necessary degree of stability in the international legal order.

     Moreover, the realization of the programme of the Decade was characterized by an active involvement of non-governmental organizations and various segments of the legal profession.  It highlighted their growing role in promoting a “culture of peace”. 

     Notwithstanding the achievements of the Decade, there is little reason for euphoria when we look at the current state of international affairs.  International and national conflicts are still a part of our life today.  Loss of life, untold suffering, hunger, dangerous diseases, and denial of the basic rights of hundreds of thousands of human beings are a sad reality.  Unsolved urgent global problems still persist, posing major challenges to the entire international community.  International law has an important role to play in meeting these challenges and in making our planet a better place to live.  In order to deal effectively with the proliferation of intra-State and other violent ethnic conflicts, the international community must unite in confronting systematic threats to civilian populations.

     The rule of law is not an end in itself.  Its purpose is to serve the needs of all the peoples, and each and every human being on this planet through the effective functioning of a universal legal regime.  As the Decade of International Law comes to an end, it is clear that the role of international law is greater than ever.  Not only must it regulate relations between States.  In keeping with the highest principles of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international law must also serve as the ultimate defence of the weakest and most vulnerable individuals within States against violence and tyranny.

     Thank you very much for your attention.  I wish you a frank, constructive and successful debate.

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