Helen Clark: on the Rule of Law and Global Challenges

Apr 11, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
on the occasion of the General Assembly Interactive Thematic Debate on the Rule of Law and Global Challenges

Panel on the Rule of Law and Development

UN General Assembly, New York

Let me begin by acknowledging the presence of the President of the General Assembly, his Excellency Joseph Deiss, and the contributions and keynote speeches of the Honorable Christina Tah, Minister of Justice and close partner of UNDP from Liberia, and the Foreign Minister from Austria, Michael Spindelegger.

I thank Deputy Minister Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo for chairing this Panel and for the important role Mexico plays in advancing the rule of law agenda at the UN. I understand that Mexico co-sponsors the rule of law agenda, together with Liechtenstein, through the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, and has recently presided over an open debate on the rule of law in the Security Council.

I am pleased to be on this distinguished panel focusing on the important topic of rule of law and development.

Rule of law critical to development

Working to establish and support the rule of law is central to UNDP’s mandate. In keeping with the Secretary General’s official definition, we view the rule of law, from our perspective as practitioners, as a series of ends to be pursued simultaneously, in line with international human rights norms and standards. Those ends include achieving:

  • governments bound by law
  • equality before the law
  • law and order, and
  • fair and accessible judicial systems and legal protections.

Strengthening the rule of law is a goal for both developing and developed countries. Under the rule of law, the rights and obligations of all – including the poor and marginalized - are defined and enforced. That enables people to live their lives in environments which are rules-based, and for the authorities to be able to tackle those predatory networks which exploit people where there is no recourse to the law.

Establishing the rule of law is both an important objective in its own right, and it is critical to broader development progress.

For example, bringing informal businesses into the formal sector where they can benefit from the rule of the law enables them to protect their earnings better, access markets, and expand opportunities for more sustainable livelihoods. Formal businesses can also be brought into tax systems, thereby increasing the potential for domestic resource mobilisation.

Under the rule of law, a country is more likely to be able to share the progress of its growth and development more equitably. That helps establish the social cohesion and stability which gives development momentum, helps ensure dignity, and builds social trust. That in turn gives people a stake in the reduction of crime in their community and contributes to a more peaceful social order and functioning institutions.

The World Bank is about to launch its 2010 World Development Report. It shows how political and criminal violence is affecting growing numbers of people worldwide, and produces instability and limits economic growth wherever it occurs. The Report finds that criminal and political violence is also increasingly undermining the rule of law and governance at the sub-national level in a number of middle income countries.   

Recognizing the connection between the rule of law and development 

Both UN advocacy and the initiatives of a number of Member States have broadened and deepened understanding of the importance of the rule of law for advancing development goals. The need to integrate rule of law programming in development efforts is also becoming better understood.

At last year’s MDG Summit, Member States reaffirmed that “good governance and the rule of law at national and international levels are essential for sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger.”

Today’s debate is a good opportunity to discuss how we can  take that objective forward, make the rule of law even more central to development agendas, and ensure that we can respond to the increasing demand for country support in this area. The ideas discussed at today’s session can be taken forward in the policy dialogue leading up to the General Assembly’s High Level Segment on rule of law in the 67th Session in September 2012.

Taking forward the rule of law for development: the work of UNDP
At UNDP, we believe that strengthening the rule of law requires strong and capable institutions which operate on the basis of laws and rules set up to serve the people. Ineffective, poorly functioning institutions cause the most harm to the least affluent and most marginalized people in our communities.

Empowered citizens, who know their rights and have confidence that institutions and processes will deliver legal redress when they need it, help drive development forward.

UNDP supports countries to develop their capacity to apply the rule of law in a fair and inclusive manner, and to empower their citizens to make the most effective use of the protection offered by the law. This work is undertaken in response to the requests of Member States under the democratic governance and crisis prevention and recovery pillars of our mandate. 

Growing numbers of countries are now requesting UNDP support to strengthen those institutions, formal and informal, which provide security, justice, and legal protection, and to help build the legal empowerment which enables all people to access justice, claim legal protection, and use peaceful means to settle disputes.

In Indonesia and Laos, for example, UNDP has supported the development of national justice strategies with a particular emphasis on expanding access for women and minorities.

In Georgia, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique, among others, UNDP supports national efforts to expand legal assistance, including by raising citizens’ awareness of their legal rights.  In Nicaragua, UNDP is assisting the national police to expand community security and address violence against women by working with volunteers and mobile community units.

UNDP has substantially scaled-up its rule of law programming in 22 of the 34 states which are the most far away from achieving the MDGs. All 22 are in – or are emerging from - armed conflicts. We work through joint programmes in those countries with UN missions to deliver broad-based justice and security services. In the DRC, for example, UNDP is supporting training for police investigators.  That programme recently produced 68 new graduates, who are now qualified to undertake criminal investigations, and thereby quadrupled the pool of police criminal investigators.

UNDP also supported the establishment of mobile courts in Somaliland.  That had the remarkable effect of increasing the number of cases adjudicated in a single year by 28 percent.

With partners, including UNICEF and UN Women, we are supporting research on rule of law programming, particularly for women’s empowerment.  The outcome of a major study on informal justice systems covering eighteen countries is expected to provide a solid evidence base for expanding our work.

UNDP’s added value in rule of law work lies in our emphasis on capacity development and national ownership in security, justice, and legal protection. We base our assistance on the local needs and realities within countries, using analysis which is context-specific, and the experience we have gained from our long-standing presence, to help countries develop their own national strategies and plans for establishing and improving the rule of law.  

Developing UN priorities in lead up to the High Level Segment

Ahead of the High Level Segment on the rule of law next year, it is important to focus on what the UN development system can do at the country and regional levels in support of states and their peoples.  UNDP offers here some thoughts which could be taken up in discussion and carried through the policy dialogue leading up to the High Level Event.

  • The international community could do more to support and invest in national and local efforts to improve the administration of justice and legal protection. Significant investments have been made in peace and security and international justice. More resources should now be dedicated to developing national capacities to address not only international crimes, but also justice and security in general as central to advancing sustainable human development.

In this work, legal empowerment and community-based approaches should be a priority. In this respect, UNDP welcomes last year’s UN General Assembly resolution on the legal empowerment of the poor, and the resolutions on the rule of law at the national and international levels.

  • Understanding needs to be built of what actually works to advance the rule of law, and stakeholders need to co-ordinate closely to make progress possible.

UNDP takes its responsibility to lead the coordination of the UN development system seriously. The contributions of UN Country Team members need to be aligned, based on their respective strengths. In justice and security work, well co-ordinated approaches are increasingly being used, including in challenging environments.

The UN Development Group’s funds, programmes, and agencies, the development banks, bilateral actors, and government partners must also work together to ensure that justice, security, and legal empowerment approaches are central to development policy and programming, and better co-ordinated, particularly for those countries facing crises, transition, or other rule of law-related challenges to their development. 

UNDP brings to this task its global architecture of knowledge, policy development, and rule of law programming. We can and do facilitate South-South co-operation and knowledge-sharing within and across regions on security, justice, and legal empowerment. In one initiative, we enabled officials from The Gambia to learn about Ghana’s good practice in legal aid and alternative dispute resolution. With support from partners, this kind of work can be stepped up.

  • Establishing the rule of law needs to be seen as an integral part of overall development strategies designed to build resilience, improve governance, and advance inclusive growth, and not as something to be initiated only in response to national or local crises. Strengthening national justice and security systems and institutions, establishing peaceful dispute resolution systems, and advancing legal empowerment can help countries advance their national development agenda.

I understand that there may be some interest among Member States in exploring setting targets for strengthening national security and justice systems, in line with national development strategies. Such targets could help make rule of law programming more coherent by directing capacity development assistance where it would be most effective.

  • Ways to harmonize the rule of law between national, regional, and global levels could be explored. Stronger and more harmonized rule of law can help countries implement international law and respond to regional and global economic integration. Such connections, including through trade, investment, and customs arrangements, can be conducive to growth and development.


It is a priority for UNDP to support its national partners to strengthen the rule of law and expand access to justice. We would like to see stronger support for this work more consistently built into development programming.

UNDP looks forward to working with Member States to take this agenda forward, so that around the globe the rule of law can give greater protection to all peoples and momentum to sustainable human development.

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