American Bar Foundation professor discusses proposals to strengthen rule of law at U.N. meeting

Terence Halliday, research professor at the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and co-director of ABF’s Center on Law and Globalization, spoke to foreign diplomats, ambassadors and United Nations officials about new proposals to strengthen the rule of law during a dialogue at the U.N. headquarters on Friday, March 11.
The discussion, on “Strengthening the Rule of Law through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC),” was hosted by the Rule of Law Unit on behalf of the U.N. Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, the Permanent Mission of Australia and the Permanent Mission of Japan. 

It marked the official launch of a report of policy proposals by Australian institutions to enhance the capacity of the UNSC to strengthen the rule of law when it deploys peace operations, applies sanctions, and authorizes the use of force. 

Australia held a two-year elected term as a member of the UNSC from 2013 to 2015. The report was developed by the Australian Civil-Military Centre (ACMC) and Centre for International Governance and Justice at Australian National University (ANU), where Halliday holds an appointment. 

The proposals were informed by an empirical study conducted by ACMC and AMU, and supported by the Australian Research Council. Although the dialogue was not an official U.N. endorsement of the report’s proposals, it was a critical opportunity for member states to reflect on the recommendations, exchange knowledge and experiences and further discuss how the UNSC can be more consistent with the fundamentals of
the rule of law.

The policy proposals enlist a responsive model of decision making to increase the UNSC’s capacity to promote the rule of law, based on four fundamental principles—transparency, consistency, accountability and engagement. The recommendations are intended to inform the actions of the UNSC, but are also a tool of analysis and evaluation for “member states, civil society actors and researchers,” according to the concept note.

“…The more these principles are respected and promoted in both the UNSC’s decision-making and in the implementation of UNSC decisions, the more the rule of law will be strengthened,” the concept note states. 

The authors of the report, Alan Ryan, Ph.D., executive director of the ACMC; Jeremy Farrall, Ph.D., and Professor Hilary Charlesworth, both researchers at ANU, presented their proposals at the dialogue. Halliday then followed with his observations, focusing on the implications of the proposals on the U.N.’s efforts to encourage rule of law internationally.

In his remarks, Halliday began by explaining why global standards fail, referencing his ABF research on global governance. Global standards fail because they are “built on weak foundations,” the authority asserting them typically “lacks legitimacy,” final veto power is held locally, and ultimately, there are issues with the “expression of the ideals themselves,” he said. Halliday then focused on the strengths of the report, asserting that the proposals are “pragmatic,” built upon “empirical foundations,” directed at “outcomes” and reflect “high ideals.” He highlighted several key proposals, including one that states the UNSC should hear the views of those who may be adversely affected by a decision before it is introduced,
and practical recommendations for peace-keeping mandates and the expansion of “ombudsperson process in sanctioning regimes.” 

Halliday mentioned many other recommendations, applauding the empirical basis of “Recommendation 52,” which states the UNSC must clearly identify the “objectives for which force may be employed” and the “objectively verifiable circumstances” that may lead to the termination of their authorization to use force. 

In his concluding remarks, Halliday stressed that the policy proposals offer a “renewed vision” that is highly adaptable. “They offer us the determination that rule of law can restrain the exercise of arbitrary power in the global heights of the UNSC and the distant localities in the farthest corners of the world. It is in these remote places where the weak and poor and suffering look to the U.N., to the UNSC, and to U.N. member states as an institution of last resort,” Halliday said. “[The proposals] will help silence the skeptics and bring justice and protection to those whose silent
voices need most to be heard.”

Halliday is a research professor and sociologist at the American Bar Foundation and the co-director of the Center on Law and Globalization. He is a specialist in globalization and law. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and is co-author, with Sida Liu, of the forthcoming book, “Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work” (Cambridge University Press).

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) is the nation's leading research institute for the empirical study of law. An independent, nonprofit organization for more than 60 years, The American Bar Foundation’s mission is to serve the legal profession, the public, and the academy through empirical research, publications and programs that advance justice and the understanding of law and its impact on society.