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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Key extracts: Annan at the UN
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan made a speech to the General Assembly in New York stressing the importance of the rule of law in international affairs. The following are extracts of the speech.

Kofi Annan
Mr Annan said no nation should regard itself to be above the law

It is good to see so many countries represented here at such a high level.

I know this reflects your understanding that, in these difficult times, the United Nations is - as you stated four years ago in the Millennium Declaration - "the indispensable common house of the entire human family".

Indeed 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...

If you, the political leaders of the world, cannot agree or 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, at home and in the world.

'Shameless disregard'

The vision of "a government of laws and not of men" is almost as old as civilisation itself...

Again and again, we see fundamental laws shamelessly disregarded

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 have seen 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 we see civilians, including children, deliberately targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it

And in Palestine we see homes destroyed, lands seized, and needless civilian casualties caused by Israel's excessive use of force...

No cause, no grievance, however legitimate in itself, can begin to justify such acts. They put all of us to shame.

Their prevalence reflects our collective failure to uphold the rule of law, and instil respect for it in our fellow men and women.

We all have a duty to do whatever we can to restore that respect.

'Concept not enough'

To do so, we must start from the principle that no-one is above the law, and no-one should be denied its protection...

Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it; and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it...

Rule of law as a mere concept is not enough. Laws must be put into practice, and permeate the fabric of our lives.

It is by strengthening and implementing disarmament treaties, including their verification provisions, that we can best defend ourselves against the proliferation - and potential use - of weapons of mass destruction.

It is by applying the law that we can deny financial resources and safe havens to terrorists - an essential element in any strategy for defeating terrorism.

It is by reintroducing the rule of law, and confidence in its impartial application, that we can hope to resuscitate societies shattered by conflict.

Collective conscience

It is the law, including Security Council resolutions, which offers the best foundation for resolving prolonged conflicts - in the Middle East, in Iraq, and around the world...

Throughout the world, Excellencies, the victims of violence and injustice are waiting. They are waiting for us to keep our word.

They notice when we use words to mask inaction. They notice when laws that should protect them are not applied...

This organization was founded in the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind.

Today we must look again into our collective conscience, and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough...

Each generation has its part to play in the age-old struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all - which alone can guarantee freedom for all.

Let our generation not be found wanting.

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