5 February 2003

Challenges of Development Require Not Only Leadership, Resources, But a Legal Response, Secretary-General Says

NEW YORK, 4 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the All-Africa Conference on Law, Justice and Development, delivered by Hans Corell, United Nations Legal Counsel and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, in Abuja, Nigeria, 4-7 February:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to this conference on law, justice and development in Africa. I would like to pay tribute to His Excellency President Obasanjo, the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Coalition of African Jurists for this timely and important initiative, as well as the donors, organizations and others who have helped to make this event possible.

You meet at a time of simultaneous hope and concern about Africa. With the establishment of the African Union and efforts to implement the New Partnership for Africa's Development, Africa is making important strides towards harnessing its rich resources, consolidating the democratic and developmental gains of recent years, and putting an end to the conflicts that have brought pain and suffering to so many people. At the same time, the AIDS epidemic continues to take a devastating toll in lives and lost development; conflict and misrule persist; and there remain formidable obstacles, internal and external, keeping the continent from overcoming poverty and integrating itself fully into the global marketplace.

Respect for the rule of law, at home and at the global level, will continue to be a key barometer of Africa's progress. Having accepted the primacy of international law at independence, many African countries have continued to make their contribution to its codification and progressive development.

They have turned often to peaceful mechanisms such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle territorial and other disputes. The ICJ itself has benefited from the contributions of distinguished African jurists, such as Taslim Olawale Elias of Nigeria and Mohammed Bedjaoui of Algeria.

African nations played a visible role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, with Senegal the first country to ratify the Rome Statute.

They have shown resolve in bringing to justice those who have committed crimes that shocked the conscience of mankind, as in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

They have sought to assure accountability and national reconciliation through the use of truth commissions and other inquiries into national traumas and violations of human rights.

In ever-greater numbers, they are becoming party to international treaties and legal regimes on important long-standing matters ranging from human rights to the environment and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and are also exploring ways to strengthen collective legal action on emerging concerns such as terrorism.

These and other such efforts herald a positive outlook towards justice, and a desire to be an active participant in the international legal order.

At the same time, it is not enough for States simply to give their consent to be bound by treaties, or to take action only to give the appearance of compliance. States must respect and implement the obligations embodied in treaties, norms and laws. Indeed, some of the key challenges at the heart of development -- including the demands of democratization, governance and accountability; the elimination of discrimination against women and enhancing their role in male-dominated societies; combating corruption, terrorism and other forms of criminality; enhancing judicial reforms -- require not only leadership and resources, but a legal response.

That gives lawyers and all others involved in the pursuit of justice a critical role in the continent's future. You can set an example of peaceful discourse. You can educate others and exchange best practices amongst yourselves. You can speak out about the role of international law in an age of interdependence. You can forge alliances, and find strength in advocating together for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And you can press your leaders to fulfil their commitments while urging leaders around the world to honour their pledge, as set out in the Millennium Declaration, to help Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

Africans have long dreamt of a just and prosperous continent governed by the rule of law. In 1905, the distinguished lawyer and founding member of the African National Congress, Pixley Isaka Seme, expressed the hopes of all Africans when he said, "the brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already, I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and of religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities ..."

Africans may not have realized that dream as yet, but today the efforts towards it are taking on greater intensity. Democratic roots are becoming firmer, and the rule of law is now understood as the sine qua non for stability and development. Just as the quest for justice motivated many past African causes, so let it govern the continent's future. In that hopeful spirit, I offer my best wishes for a successful conference.

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