International commitment to the rule of law is under assault around the world, said a global panel of eminent academics, diplomats, and jurists.
The panelists, speaking at a public event by the ICJ and the Geneva Graduate Institute, commented that this assault is threatening to reverse the progress made over the last 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) came into force.
The panelists addressed progress in asserting the rule of law since the UDHR, for instance through the development of the International Criminal Court and greater awareness and commitment to rights, but also highlighted current challenges at the national level, such as in Venezuela, and at the global level, with ongoing discrimination and violence against women.
“The rule of law is a principle that helps the world and also helps individuals,” said ICJ Secretary General Saman Zia-Zarifi, in his introductory remarks.
“It is a principle that elevates democracy from mob rule and is necessary to harness the energy of democracy and give it a direction and progression towards the protection and promotion of human rights and sustainable development for the betterment of the lives of people around the world,” he added.
Professor Carlos Ayala, ICJ Vice-President and former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, spoke about the importance of having regional rights frameworks that were accessible to individuals when the rule of law has been eradicated at a national level.
Speaking in relation to Venezuela, Professor Ayala explained that the rule of law cannot be simply overturned by a political party, even with a majority, as the erosion of the rule of law puts all human rights at risk and these rights must be safeguarded regionally and internationally.
Next Patricia Schulz, member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, pointed out that in many countries, the rule of law has been weak or never even properly existed.
She addressed failings where access to justice is undermined by systems that are gender discriminatory and explained that in almost all countries, even where the rule of law seems strong, there is a lack of will and/or means to fight gender-based violence.
Professor Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute and member of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, evaluated issues of accountability and the rule of law in the context of international criminal law.
He noted the important role international criminal law and its operational mechanisms have in holding individuals to account, but warned that focusing on prosecution and focusing on issues such as genocide and the use of chemical weapons ran the risk of undermining the universality of ideas enshrined in the UDHR.
His Excellency Luis Gallegos, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations, raised concerns about the politicization of human rights and the capacity of UN mechanisms to address transnational rights issues such as migration.
He said that addressing the rule of law was not a simple question but that states had to come together to consistently and systematically address the rights violations that arose from a break-down in the rule of law.
Final panelist, Sanji Monageng, ICJ Commissioner and Justice of the International Criminal Court, spoke about the need for international organizations to rethink their approach to the rule of law and the way they apply this to cases, to avoid focusing narrowly on singular issues when rights violations need to be addressed homogenously.
Justice Monageng explained that for victims, sexual violence, for instance, is rarely a singular incident but part of broader array of rights violations that have far-reaching impacts.
In his concluding remarks, Professor Robert Goldman, who moderated the event, said that “the rule of law deals with a central tenet of any just society, not only equal protection and equal access but it is something that protects the vulnerable.”
He explained that the treat to the rule of law today is endemic and it is global, but the ICJ is uniquely placed to robustly address these difficult questions and to continue to use the rule of law to defend and advance rights protections.
The event, which took place at the Graduate Institute at the Maison de la Paix, promoted by the Permanent Mission of Germany, was attended by 150 persons including academics, diplomats, lawyers and representatives of civil society and international rights mechanisms. The event was also streamed online by RIDH Global.
You can watch the full event here.
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