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November 4, 2007

UN Establishes Rule of Law Unit

At a recent Rule of Law conference hosted by the Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law, UN Rule of Law Officer Shelly Inglis gave delegates a briefing on the newly-established UN Rule of Law Assistance Unit. The Unit has been created on an interim basis under the Deputy Secretary-General and has four staff seconded from  other UN departments and agencies. As an organizational initiative, the Unit is tasked with developing a UN system-wide guidance and practice on rule of law, with a view to unifying the approaches of the many units and departments that currently carry out ROL-related activities under the UN umbrella (Peace Keeping Operations;Political Affairs; Legal Affairs; High Commissioner for Human Rights; Drugs and Crime;UNHCR;UNDP etc). The unit is also expected to develop a Guidance Note on rule of law as a foundation for creating coherent national needs assessments in countries in which the UN is active and structuring one UN engagement or approach per country. Bureaucratically this will be challenging because the Unit does not yet have permanent staff or a budget line.

From a research standpoint, this is an interesting development because it marks the evolution of rule of law discourse and instruments within the UN. Originally rule of law was used in the context of strengthening human rights and then in the General Principles on Independent Judiciaries and other agreements on prosecutors and lawyers. With the engagement of the Security Council in the 1990s, rule of law moved beyond human rights and crime as the UN found itself governing territories such as East Timor and Kosovo and needing to run justice systems and undertake wide-ranging law reform. The first presentation by the Secretary General to the General Assembly was in 2004 and that report sought to create a common framework for rule of law that embraced economic development, criminal justice, security and human rights.

In this new phase, marked by the creation of the ROL Unit, the UN is seeking to move ROL away from technical legal content and reposition it as a system-wide political issue that requires engagement by UN leadership. Part of the UN vision is support for local ownership, promoting local constituencies and helping host countries engage with donors and buoy them against piecemeal donor reforms.

This seems like an ambitious agenda, but also a fruitful research direction. If you know of colleagues or students working in this area, by all means please share the references.

- Veronica Taylor

November 4, 2007 | Permalink


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