Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2675
        2 October 2000
     Secretary-General Asks Harvard Jurists to Work for Better Understanding 
    Of Benefits of International Criminal Court
     

      NEW YORK, 29 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of an address made in New York yesterday by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Harvard Law School Advisory Board Dinner:
     

     I am delighted to join you this evening for a conversation about the rule of law in international relations.  I wish to pay tribute to Ambassador Staehelin for hosting this dinner, and for recognizing the importance of the rule of law to all that the United Nations seeks to achieve.  

     As lawyers, academics, and judges, you know the value of domestic law to the success and stability of any society.  What is being recognized today more widely, I believe, is the importance of the rule of law to our global society in an age when human interactions increasingly take place across State frontiers as well as within them.  Which rules and standards should frame these interactions, how can they best develop and thrive, and how can the law help ensure that they take place peacefully and productively to the benefit of all?

     These are questions with which we, at the United Nations, are grappling every day -– questions which require the careful study and consideration of an audience such as this.  The Harvard Law School -– as other great law schools -– can play a vitally important role not only by asking these questions of its students, but also by promoting a broader understanding of the rule of law in international society.  

     This is a particular challenge for the United States, which is enjoying a period of prosperity and power so remarkable as to lead some of its citizens to question the utility of international law altogether.  But, just as you know that this very power and prosperity is built on the foundation of law, so you recognize that global prosperity and progress require the same foundation.

     Over the last 10 years, the United Nations has taken decisive steps towards bringing about a world in which international law is applied concretely and effectively.  This is most apparent in the field of international criminal law.  Today an extensive web of international human rights norms and institutions protect and advance the rights of the individual.  In addition, international law will also have a vital role in establishing the universal framework which is needed if globalization is to become the universal force for progress and prosperity that we would all like it to be.  

     The reality is that trade, services and investment can only cross national boundaries when law crosses them as well.  The minimum condition for such  transactions is that the trader and investor have confidence that their property rights will be respected, that contracts will be fulfilled, and that when disputes arise there is some agreed method of settling them.  In such a global economy, it is vital to have clear, simple rules that everyone knows and everyone applies.  That is by now virtually a truism in the world of business

     What is not so widely appreciated is the extent to which such rules already exist, along with institutions to manage them.  And still less widely known is the fact that many of these rules and institutions fall within the United Nations system.  Let me give you a few examples:

    --  When ships sail freely across the seas and through international straits, they are protected by rules enshrined in United Nations conventions.

    --  Trademarks and patents are registered throughout the world by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

    --  The World Health Organization sets quality criteria for the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, and standardizes the names of drugs.

     These are all services that many of us take for granted in our daily lives.  But it is only thanks to a carefully woven network of international conventions and rules that we are able to do so.  And the more we find ourselves living in a single economic space, the more we shall depend on such rules. 

     And these rules have to be rooted in shared values.  In the last resort it is common values that hold every society together, and what we are talking about is really a global society.  Moreover, every society must have a language.  The language of global society is international law.  Of course that society cannot and must not be completely uniform.  The wonderful diversity of human cultures is something of inestimable value in itself, and also the main source of human dynamism.  It must be preserved.  But if different traditions are to coexist peacefully, they must do so within a framework of shared values -- a sense of our common humanity.  Nowhere is our defence of that common humanity more important than in the struggle against impunity for genocide and crimes against humanity.

     The twentieth century was, we know, one of unspeakable horrors committed on an unprecedented scale.  But this was not for want of laws.  Over the course of the century, States put in place a comprehensive set of international legal instruments designed to prevent the commission of atrocities and crimes against humanity.  What was all too often lacking, though, was the will to enforce the laws.  Serious violations of international humanitarian law went unpunished.  The message sent was one of impunity.

    The decision of the Security Council in 1993 to establish an international tribunal for the war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia since 1991 marked a decisive break with this lamentable record of inaction.  Faced with deeds of unimaginable savagery drawn -- in the words of a distinguished judge -- from the darkest pages of human history, the Security Council took the steps necessary to bring to justice those who would violate the rules of international humanitarian  law.  And a year later, the Security Council established a further international criminal tribunal, for the prosecution of persons responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

     Both the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are now fully functioning international criminal courts, trying cases, hearing appeals and administering and enforcing a system of international criminal justice.  If the peoples of the world have come to demand respect for the basic values of humanity and the rule of law in the resolution of armed conflicts, it is due in no small part to the work of the two Tribunals.  But what is still too often lacking is the will of Member States to arrest those indicted by the courts and bring them to justice. 

     The work of the two Tribunals has also helped to inspire the Member States of the United Nations in a project of truly historic import:  the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court.  112 States have now signed the Statute.  It will come into force once 60 States have ratified it.  Already, 20 States have done this.  

     I recognize that some Governments remain wary of this enterprise.  I am convinced, though, that their skepticism does not flow from any disagreement with the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law nor from any principled opposition to the notion that those who are guilty of the most atrocious crimes known to humanity should be tried and punished.

     I would encourage those, like yourselves, who have dedicated your lives to the cause of the rule of law to help better educate your fellow citizens in the role of international humanitarian law, and, in particular, in the universal benefits of an International Criminal Court.  I say this because I firmly believe that if States do not live by international law, they are condemned to live by the law of the jungle.  That cannot be in the interest of even the greatest Power on earth -– for all power has its limits, both in time and in space.  Least of all, I submit, can it be in the interest of a great democracy, which is so firmly attached to the rule of law in its domestic arrangements. 

     The predominant influence of such a great democracy in today’s international order should be seen as a great chance for humanity, and for the American people themselves, to establish the rule of law on a global scale.  Harvard Law School and this audience have a critical role in helping us seize this moment of opportunity for the rule of law around the world.  I look forward to following your efforts in the years to come.
     

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