25 September 2003





NEW YORK, 24 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered today, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the ministerial meeting of the Security Council on “Justice and the Rule of Law: the United Nations Role”:




It is the latter that I wish to speak about today. The United Nations, through many complex operations, has learned that the rule of law is not a luxury, and that justice is not a side issue.


We have seen people lose faith in a peace process when they do not feel safe from crime, or secure in returning to their homes, or able to start rebuilding the elements of a normal life, or confident that the injustices of the past will be addressed.


We have seen that, without credible machinery to enforce the law and resolve disputes, people resort to violent or illegal means.


And we have seen that elections held when the rule of law is too fragile seldom lead to lasting democratic governance.


In addressing these issues, sensitive questions are involved –- questions of sovereignty, tradition and security, of justice and reconciliation. The task is not simply technically difficult. It is politically delicate. It requires us to facilitate the national formulation and implementation of an agenda to address these issues, to cultivate the political will and leadership to do so, and to build a wide constituency for the process.


Last year, we assembled a Task Force on the Rule of Law in Peace Operations. Its final report showed the real breadth of United Nations experience and expertise in this field. But it also demonstrated that we need to do much more.


We must take a comprehensive approach to justice and the rule of law. It should encompass the entire criminal justice chain –- not just police, but lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and prison officers -– as well as many issues beyond the criminal justice system.


We must make better use of the resources we have. We have taken steps in-house to help all agencies work together, so that we can better identify justice and rule of law issues in our reports to this Council. I hope this leads to improved decisions by the Council and better action in the field, so that justice and rule of law components are integral parts of peace operations.  


We need more resources, of many kinds. The best mandates will get us nowhere without early, adequate and coordinated funding. We also need high-quality personnel -– women as well as men -– who can be deployed quickly. And we may have to reach outside the United Nations system to fill in gaps, or make up for shortfalls, in our expertise.


We must base United Nations action in this area in the Charter, in United Nations standards for human rights and the administration of justice, and in the principles of international humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law and criminal law.


But a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Local actors must be involved from the start –- local justice sector officials and experts from government, civil society, and the private sector. We should, wherever possible, guide rather than direct, and reinforce rather than replace. The aim must be to leave behind strong local institutions when we depart.


Have we taken these lessons to heart? Liberia will be a test case. The Council has responded to my recommendations by incorporating important rule of law components in authorizing the deployment of the United Nations Mission in Liberia. I hope that rule of law issues will retain their importance through the budgeting and deployment process. And I hope that the Council will build on this approach in the future in addressing other post-conflict situations.


Let me say a few words about the question of justice for victims of past crimes.


Ending the climate of impunity is vital to restoring public confidence and building international support to implement peace agreements.


At the same time, we should remember that the process of achieving justice for victims may take many years, and it must not come at the expense of the more immediate need to establish the rule of law on the ground.


Transitional justice mechanisms need to concentrate not only on individual responsibility for serious crimes, but also on the need to achieve national reconciliation. We need to tailor criminal justice mechanisms to meet the needs of victims and victim societies. If necessary, we should supplement courts with mechanisms such as truth and reconciliation commissions.


At times, the goals of justice and reconciliation compete with each other. Each society needs to form a view about how to strike the right balance between them.


Nevertheless, in striking that balance, certain international standards must be adhered to. There should be no amnesties for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. And the rights of the accused should be scrupulously protected.


We also know that there cannot be real peace without justice.


Yet the relentless pursuit of justice may sometimes be an obstacle to peace. If we insist, at all times, and in all places, on punishing those who are guilty of extreme violations of human rights, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to stop the bloodshed and save innocent civilians. If we always and everywhere insist on uncompromising standards of justice, a delicate peace may not survive.


But equally, if we ignore the demands of justice simply to secure agreement, the foundations of that agreement will be fragile, and we will set bad precedents.


There are no easy answers to such moral, legal and philosophical dilemmas.


At times, we may need to accept something less than full or perfect justice, or to devise intermediate solutions such as truth and reconciliation commissions. We may need to put off the day when the guilty are brought to trial.


At other times, we may need to accept, in the short-term, a degree of risk to peace, in the hope that, in the long-term, peace will be more securely guaranteed.


These are delicate problems for the United Nations to handle when it is involved in peace negotiations. Since 1999, I have given my envoys guidelines to assist them in doing so.


They also present difficult dilemmas for this Council. In each case, the Council must attempt to balance the demands of peace and justice, conscious that they often compete, and aware that there may be times when they cannot fully be reconciled.


We have learned that the rule of law delayed is lasting peace denied, and that justice is a handmaiden of true peace. Implementing these lessons is a tremendous challenge. I have today offered a few reflections on how we might meet that challenge. But I would also be prepared to make a further contribution to the deliberations of the Council on this issue.


Above all, I hope that today’s meeting heralds a new commitment from the Council to place issues of justice and the rule of law at the heart of its work in rebuilding war-torn countries.





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