- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

The Rule of Law is widely recognized as a fundamental principle of “good governance.” It enshrines important principles such as the primacy of the law, equality before the law, legal certainty, an independent judiciary and accountability of private and public actors, including the State itself. A State organized internally along these principles is known as a Rechtsstaat.

But what about relations between States? Does the Rule of Law govern States in their international relations? Is there room for an “international Rechtsstaat”?

Our answer is clearly yes, we need a rule-based international order. It can balance the interests of all States, big or small, by offering each of them those “goods” that they need most: For smaller, weaker countries, it provides equality and fairness. For the bigger, stronger ones, it provides predictability and an opportunity to project interests and influence through the power of persuasion, the power of jointly-held values. The real issue, in our view, is not whether we need rules in international relations (and respect for these rules), but whether the existing rules are fit to meet today’s challenges.

This month, Denmark is holding the presidency of the United Nations’ most powerful organ: the Security Council. On June 22, upon Denmark’s suggestion, the Council debated its own role in strengthening international law.

Not surprisingly, the debate about the role of international law has re-emerged in the context of recent, profound political changes. The opening of the Berlin Wall, on Nov. 9, 1989, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have led us, in one way or another, to redefine our outlook on current challenges facing the international legal order:

• How shall we deal with the new types of conflicts that are unfolding not between, but within States and, as in the case of terrorism, between States and non-State actors?

• How can we ensure that States view the human rights and well-being of their civilian populations as their main objective, and what can — even must — we do if States fail to do so, for lack of means or lack of political will?

• What sort of rules does globalization need so that people around the world can benefit equitably and in all fairness from its potential to generate openness, knowledge and prosperity?

Some areas of international law have witnessed clear progress over the recent years. Often, the Security Council has been instrumental in achieving this. A good example is the importance of accountability in post-conflict situations as a means to pay tribute to victims and to pave the way to reconciliation. The creation of the two War Crimes Tribunals for Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court in Sierra Leone, and in particular the setting-up of the International Criminal Court — an institution now supported by more than half of the States around the world — were landmark events. Justice, truth-telling and forgiveness have been discovered as important ingredients of post-conflict reconciliation. The Security Council’s decision on June 16 to transfer former Liberian President Charles Taylor to stand trial in The Hague further demonstrates the Council’s involvement in the fight against impunity.

Over recent years, the international community has steadily moved to reassess what is at the core of State sovereignty. Do States have a responsibility — as sovereignty’s “other side of the medal” — to act against massive abuses and catastrophes? Last September, leaders from around the world agreed to empower the Security Council to decide to intervene, as a last resort, if a State is unable or unwilling to protect its inhabitants. This has become known as the concept of the “responsibility to protect.” We support it and welcome that the Council has recently traveled to Sudan and neighboring countries, underlining its determination to stop the suffering in Darfur and thereby give credence to the “responsibility to protect.”

But the Council’s involvement with international law goes deeper. A few examples:

• When the Council decides on the mandates of peacekeeping operations, the inclusion of rule-of-law components has become a standard element. The Council has also addressed the issues of protection of children and civilians in armed conflict.

• The Council plays a role in the peaceful settlement of disputes about borders, territorial integrity and sovereignty of States.

• The Council has established rules (and a corresponding monitoring mechanism) to guide States in their efforts to counter terrorism and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

• The Council can, and indeed does, impose sanctions, for example to fight terrorism or to curb the power of warlords. The Council has stated that the fight against terrorism must take place within the framework of international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law; it is now approaching the question how to refine its sanctions procedures in order to enhance their credibility and efficiency.

• Also, one of the central issues currently before the Council — Iran — has at its core the question of that country’s rights and obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Denmark and Germany are committed to the promotion of peace, security and well-being through an effective multilateral system. We say this as Europeans and as representatives of two neighboring nations. Our part of the world has been ravaged by wars for centuries. We have learned from the past, creating, as a common European endeavor, our own “international Rechtsstaat.” Our objective remains the development of a stronger international society, well-functioning international institutions and a rule-based international order.

Per Stig Moller is Denmark’s minister for foreign affairs. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Germany’s federal foreign minister.

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