'The rule of law remains elusive'.

Author:Annan, Kofi
Position:From the Secretary-General

Today, more than ever, the world needs an effective mechanism through which to seek common solutions to common problems. That is what this Organization was created for. Let's not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it, we will find any more effective instrument.


As I said a year ago, we have reached a fork in the road. If you, the political leaders of the world's nations, cannot reach agreement on the way forward, history will take the decisions for you, and the interests of your peoples may go by default.

Today I will not seek to pre-judge those decisions, but to remind you of the all-important framework in which they should be taken, namely, the rule of law in each country and in the world.

The vision of "a government of laws and not of men" is almost as old as civilization itself. In a hallway not far from this podium is a replica of the code of laws promulgated by Hammurabi more than three thousand years ago, in the land we now call Iraq.

Much of Hammurabi's code now seems impossibly harsh. But etched into its tablets are principles of justice that have been recognized, if seldom fully implemented, by almost every human society since his time--legal protection for the poor; restraints on the strong, so they cannot oppress the weak--laws publicly enacted, and known to all. That code was a landmark in mankind's struggle to build an order where, instead of might making right, right would make might.

Many nations represented in this chamber can proudly point to founding documents of their own that embody that simple concept. And this Organization--your United Nations--is founded on the same principle.

Yet today the rule of law is at risk around the world. Again and again, we see fundamental laws shamelessly disregarded--those that ordain respect for innocent life, for civilians, for the vulnerable--especially children.

To mention only a few flagrant and topical examples:

In Iraq, we see civilians massacred in cold blood, while relief workers, journalists and other non-combatants are taken hostage and put to death in the most barbarous fashion. At the same time, we have seen Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused.

In Darfur, we see whole populations displaced, and their homes destroyed, while rape is used as a deliberate strategy.

In northern Uganda, we see children mutilated and forced to take part in acts of unspeakable cruelty.

In Beslan, we have seen children taken hostage and brutally massacred.

In Israel...

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