Press Releases

                                                                                                                     24 June 2004

    Weakened Commitment to International Law Would Be Victory for Enemies of Human Rights, Says Secretary-General in Message to Salamanca Forum

    NEW YORK, 23 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the Third Forum for Debate Salamanca 2004 on “The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century and the Primacy of International Law”, delivered by Alvaro de Soto, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, in Salamanca, 23 June:

    I send my greetings to all who have gathered in Salamanca, which has for centuries been a centre of scholarship and learning on international law, to discuss the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century and the primacy of international law. One of the founding purposes of the United Nations is to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.

    In the last decade, the international community has become more deeply conscious, and thankfully less prepared to tolerate, large scale human rights abuses within States. The peoples of the world –- including, of course, the people of Spain –- have also become more acutely threatened by international terrorism, and the potentially related threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, our world has not been united on how to deal with these threats. Some have even asked whether the principles of international law rooted in the United Nations Charter provide an adequate framework in which to decide, for example, if and when intervention in a sovereign State is justified to prevent massive human rights violations, or if and when it is right to intervene to pre-empt a non-imminent but potential threat to other States.

    While it would not be surprising for there to be differences of opinion on these questions in particular cases, it would be deeply concerning if a serious cleavage were to persist on the very principles to be applied, or if those principles were to be routinely ignored. That could result in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification. In the same way, sidelining the principles of international humanitarian law would only result in the proliferation of outrages against soldiers and civilians from many nations.

    That is why States must unite in defence of the principles of the Charter and international law, while working to find ways to make the United Nations a more effective instrument for producing collective responses to the threats of our age. To contribute to that effort, I have appointed a high-level panel to try to generate a common assessment of the threats and challenges we face, and to make recommendations on any changes that may be necessary to our institutional and legal framework to ensure that they are, indeed, addressed in a timely and effective manner.

    We must also strengthen the institutions we have to enforce the law in individual cases, so that those whose crimes are an affront to our common humanity and to world peace are brought to justice, and so that would-be violators are deterred. That is why the establishment of the International Criminal Court is a landmark in efforts to build peace and respect for human rights, and why the ratification of the Rome Statute by all States would be an equally important milestone for which we should continue to strive.

    To weaken our commitment to international law would be to hand the enemies of order and human rights a victory that they cannot achieve on their own. The international community must choose a different path –- a path that ensures that the threats of our age will be addressed, and that international law will be strengthened in the process.

    I have no doubt that the participants in this Forum will have a real contribution to make on how this can be done. I therefore wish you all the best for a productive discussion.

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