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On May 1, the United States officially recognizes Law Day. It is meant to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of the country and to recognize its importance for society. For me, Law Day is an opportunity to ponder this question around the topic of the rule of law. It is especially important because in this day and age, we so often “want to know” about the rule of law, but are “afraid to ask” since the outcome often paints a dark and gloomy picture.
The notion of the “rule of law” stems from many traditions and continents and is intertwined with the evolution of the history of law itself. The Code of Hammourabi, promulgated by the King of Babylon around 1760 BC, is one of the first examples of the codification of law, presented to the public and applying to the acts of the ruler. In the Arab world, a rich tradition of Islamic law embraced the notion of the supremacy of law. Core principles of holding government authority to account and placing the wishes of the populace before the rulers, can be found amid the main moral and philosophical traditions across the Asian continent, including in Confucianism. In the Anglo-American context, the Magna Carta of 1215 was a seminal document, emphasizing the importance of the independence of the judiciary and the role of judicial process as fundamental characteristics of the rule of law. In continental Europe notions of rule of law focused on the nature of the State, particularly on the role of constitutionalism. Recent attempts to formalize its meaning have drawn on this rich history of diverse understandings. The modern conception of the rule of law has developed as a concept distinct from the “rule of man,” involving a system of governance based on non-arbitrary rules as opposed to one based on the power and whim of an absolute ruler. The concept of rule of law is deeply linked to the principle of justice, involving an ideal of accountability and fairness in the protection and vindication of rights and the prevention and punishment of wrongs. Long before the United Nations, States were working towards a rule of justice in international life with a view to establishing an international community based on law.
Today, the concept of the rule of law is embedded in the Charter of the United Nations. In its Preamble, one of the aims of the UN is “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”. A primary purpose of the Organization is “to maintain international peace and security… and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the historic international recognition that all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms, recognizes that “… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”
Read the complete article via The United Nations Rule of Law >>