For information only - not an official document.
13 December 2000
Issues of Sovereignty and Universality in Context of Rule of Law in Global Village Discussed at UN Conference Symposium

(reissued as received from an UN Information Officer)

     PALERMO, 12 December (UN Information Service) -- Legality and security must be asserted internationally, in order to be guaranteed in the context of globalization.  This was the view expressed this afternoon by the Minister of Justice of Italy, Piero Fassino, at the opening of a United Nations Symposium entitled, “The Rule of Law in the Global Village -- Issues of Sovereignty and Universality”. 

      The Symposium is being held in conjunction with the four-day High-level Political Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which began today in Palermo, Italy.  The themes of today’s session were “The Rule of Law -- Lofty Idea and Harsh Reality” and “Towards a European Judicial Space”.

     Minister Fassino said the Symposium involved an issue that was both strategic and decisive -- the question of sovereignty and universality.  Looked at from the angle of security and legality, it was clear that this was a crucial matter.  Previously, the assertion of legality had ended at national borders -- governments had been preoccupied with guaranteeing order at home.  That had now changed. 

     This was where the problem could be seen, he said.  Globalization overcame differences and borders, and security and legality must be measured in that new context.  The problem could be seen at all angles -- politically, economically, demographically and environmentally.  None of those issues could be regulated on the basis of national policy.  There was a need for a supra-national policy.  Legality, too, must be seen in a planetary supra-national light. 

     The Conference was both an opportunity for discussion and the initiation of legal instruments to combat transnational crime, he said.  The Member States of the United Nations had come together to endorse the Convention and its protocols.  Those instruments, once signed, must be implemented into national laws. 

     Continuing, he said that in recent years, more and more international instruments had been implemented.  This demonstrated that the problem of sovereignty was key.  Signing an international treaty meant recognition of a measure of external sovereignty that influenced domestic matters.  For example, the acceptance of an international tribunal meant the acceptance of external jurisdiction. 

     The focus of the Conference -- security, legality and protection of citizens -- must be seen at an international level, he stressed.  Great indications for further steps could be gained during the Conference. 

    Jan van Dijk, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention in Vienna, spoke on behalf of the Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi.  He said the Palermo Conference marked an important threshold in the development of international instruments to combat transnational organized crime.  In the signing of the Convention, the international community’s point of departure was the notion of human security -- what it was and how best one could promote it; and how it could be safeguarded from its enemies. 

     He said the rule of law, in a strong and healthy society, struck a balance between the rights and freedoms of the individual on the one hand, and the interests of society as a whole on the other.  It enshrined the principle of one law for all with nobody standing above the law.  It was in that balance that the principles of democracy could be seen walking hand in hand with the principles of justice, and it was in such a context that the conditions for human security were optimized. 

    If a State was governed by the rule of law and if that State was capable of responding flexibly and imaginatively to the new external security challenges without compromising its democratic orientation, then it could be pronounced a strong State, he said.  A world of nation-States comprised of a set of genuinely strong States was indeed something to be embraced.  And it was up to the strong States in the world to take up the challenge of “our infant Convention and its protocols”. 

     He stressed that all States must be involved in a collective enterprise based on the rule of law.  That enterprise should be aimed at eliminating external threats to all, wherever they might lie.  Its specific aims should be to create greater harmonization of State laws in order to facilitate effective international cooperation and to articulate international standards and disseminate examples of best practice. 

     Both the principles of sovereignty and universality could indeed be mobilized to protect humanity from degradation, he said.  It was a massive challenge, and, keeping the rule of law firmly in sight, it was one that could be met. 

     Giovanni Conso, President of the Scientific Committee of the Conference and Moderator for this afternoon’s discussion, said that, at present, facing more and more new problems in a world under aggression from transnational organizations, there could not be a better summation of the problem than the title of the Symposium.  He stressed that sovereignty and universality should not be seen as opposing one another -- they should be seen together, with traditional State sovereignty placed alongside the absolute need for a common front to fight crime. 

    The narrow borders of traditional sovereignty prevented the international community from keeping pace with changes in the world, especially in countering crime, he said.  There were two key areas where steps had been taken, or were about to be taken.  The first was the area of judicial assistance, which a growing number of States should offer each other.  The second took into account a creation of rules common to a number of States.  The time needed for consistent progress in that respect was considerable.  The rule of law should be an essential factor in a more solid international community. 

     Winston Nagan, Samuel T. Dell Research Scholar at the University of Florida (United States), introduced the theme, “The Rule of Law --Lofty Idea and Harsh Reality”.  He said the Convention represented recognition of the harsh reality that crime was not simply a localized phenomenon.  It recognized that a huge segment of crime was international, transnational and indeed global.  The Convention sought to fill the void in the global, political and juridical vacuum created by a system primarily organized around territorially based nation-States.  It recognized that problem, as well as the problem that sovereignty might be abused, through inadvertence, incompetence or gross astigmatism, to create safe havens for the operatives of organized crime as well as their assets.  The Convention prescribed a situation in which safe havens for organized crime would be increasingly rare.

     He said the rule of law was an idea rooted in the principle of practical realism.  The rule of law was critical in the process of ameliorating and then changing harsh realities.  If it was successful, it would maximize the prospect that loftier ideals of human organization and reciprocal respect could occur.  As the Palermo experience aptly demonstrated, the rule of law issue was not someone else’s problem. 

     Antonio Vitorino, European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, introduced the theme, “Towards a European Judicial Space”.  He outlined the main elements of a strategy to realize a genuine European area of justice.  He said the strategy was based on four major principles: approximation of national criminal law in a number of priority areas; effective mechanisms for police and judicial cooperation; mutual recognition [of rulings in criminal cases]; and protection of individuals.

     Nicola Cristaldi, President of the Regional Assembly of Sicily, said Sicily had almost constantly found itself at the centre of events characterizing the history of Europe.  Sicily could not remain outside the process of advances in information technology involved in globalization.  The new scenario was one of global communication. 

     Globalization could not be stopped or slowed down and the building of the new information society could not be fought, he said.  He stressed the role of the State and of democracies in ensuring that all benefited from the process and that the weak were not victimized.  As Montesqieu had said, in a democracy, the people were the monarchs from some angles and the subject from others.  The Internet could be seen in that light. 

     The Symposium will continue at 10 a.m. tomorrow, when speakers take up the theme “Towards Universal Jurisdiction: Promise or Threat?”

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