Press Releases

          7 October 2004

    Secretary-General, Addressing Security Council, Describes Lessons Learned from UN’s Work Rebuilding Rule of Law in Societies Shattered by Conflict

    NEW YORK, 6 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s introductory statement at the Security Council meeting on “The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies”, in New York, 6 October:

    I warmly welcome the convening of this open debate.

    A few weeks ago in the General Assembly, I said that reintroducing the rule of law, and ensuring confidence in its impartial application, is an essential part of resuscitating societies shattered by conflict.

    That principle lies at the heart of the report before you today -- a report that reflects the coordinated effort of more than a dozen United Nations departments and agencies, based on our own experiences over decades of involvement in this field.

    The report reviews the tools at our disposal to help administer transitional justice and rebuild the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict societies -- from national justice systems to the support given by United Nations peace operations; from the International Criminal Court to ad hoc international and mixed tribunals and truth commissions; from public sector vetting to reparations for victims.

    As the report points out, the United Nations’ work in this field has taught us many lessons.

    The first is that, to be successful, peace-building activities must reflect international norms and standards.  But this does not mean that we should uncritically import or impose foreign models.  One size does not fit all.  Our support needs to be carefully tailored to the context, based on national assessments, national participation, and national needs and aspirations.

    Second, we must be provided with the resources needed for a sustainable investment in justice.  These resources must help build local capacity, but simply providing technical assistance is not enough. We must also help foster and sustain political will at the national level. We should therefore support domestic reform constituencies and facilitate national consultations on justice reform and transitional justice.

    Third, we cannot forget the political context.  Peace and stability can only prevail if the causes of conflict are addressed in a legitimate and fair manner -- causes such as ethnic discrimination, gross disparities in the distribution of wealth and social services, abuse of power, and the denial of the right to property or citizenship. Indeed, justice, peace and democracy are mutually reinforcing. In fragile post-conflict settings, our efforts must advance on all three fronts. That requires strategic planning, careful integration, and sensible sequencing.

    Fourth, our approach to justice must be comprehensive. We must address the police, courts, prisons, defence lawyers and prosecutors. And we must be sensitive to the needs of civil society, including of victims, women, children and minorities.

    Fifth, where transitional justice is concerned, the better approach is usually not an either/or choice between prosecutions and truth commissions. Instead, a nationally determined combination of mechanisms will generally work best -- including, where appropriate, traditional justice mechanisms.

    In some cases, international or mixed tribunals have been set up to address past crimes. These tribunals have helped bring a measure of justice to victims, held at least some perpetrators to account, and helped remove extremist elements from power. They have also enriched the jurisprudence of international criminal law. But they have been expensive. And they have not contributed adequately to building sustainable national capacities for the administration of justice.

    The report notes that the establishment of the International Criminal Court offers new hope for a permanent reduction in the phenomenon of impunity -- a hope that will grow stronger with each new ratification of the Rome Statute.

    The recommendations of the report are grouped together in section 19. I hope it will serve as a practical aide-memoire for the Security Council, to help it pay due attention to the rule of law and transitional justice as it addresses the conflict and post-conflict situations before it.

    I have not forgotten my own responsibilities, and those of United Nations departments, agencies, funds and programmes. The United Nations system is working on important new tools to help strengthen our capacities to support the rule of law and transitional justice. These include a justice sector mapping guide, support for the development of model transitional criminal codes, and policy guidance for domestic and hybrid prosecutions. The United Nations system will continue to work in the coming months to implement the recommendations in the report that are directed at us.

    We are ready to play our part, and I trust that the members of the Council are ready to play theirs.

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