The rule of law at home and abroad: The need for respect of international law by all nations by Lakhdar Brahimi

The Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture 2002 by Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, has long and profound experience of dealing with deep-rooted conflicts both within and between countries.

Event details

Date:12 September 2001
Venue:Uppsala University Hall

lakhdarHe has been the United Nations envoy to many states in conflict zones or in immediate post-conflict situations during the last 10–12 years, among them Haiti, South Africa and Zaire, in addition to Afghanistan where he is now entrusted, for the second time, with overall authority for the political, human rights, relief, recovery and reconstruction activities of the United Nations.

Central to Lakhdar Brahimi’s perspective on these conflicts is that they are, to a large extent, the result of either the absence, or the breakdown, of the Rule of Law. In conflict-ridden areas security, judicial and legal systems are rapidly destroyed and the collapse of the Rule of Law may be ‘both the cause and the consequence of conflict’. The best way of assisting countries thus afflicted is, he concludes, to devote as much attention as possible to building up, systematically, their institutions and structures, thereby creating a new and stronger basis for the Rule of Law.

It is interesting to observe that as an inspiring preface to his lecture Lakhdar Brahimi has chosen a quotation from Kofi Annan’s speech to the UN General Assembly on 12 September 2002. The words emphasise the universality of the concept of the Rule of Law and express in a nutshell the message contained in the Lecture:

‘I believe that every Government that is committed to the Rule of Law at home, must be committed to the Rule of Law abroad. All States have a clear interest as well as a clear responsibility to uphold international law and maintain international order.’

It may also be noted that Brahimi’s Lecture has other linkages with Kofi Annan and with the Secretary General’s Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture in September 2001, as both use Hammarskjöld’s Introduction to his last Annual Report as a centrepiece in their argument. They dwell particularly on the nature of the United Nations as a ‘dynamic instrument’ through which governments can pursue executive action, rather than as a form of ‘static con ference machinery’, resolving conflicts of interest and ideology but not going very much further than that.

Lakhdar Brahimi, in his Lecture, takes the reader on a historical journey that traces the evolution of the concept of the Rule of Law, starting with the challenge to feudal privilege and the assertion of the right to dissent, con-tinuing through the era of the Enlightenment and the principles of the French Revolution to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international conventions and agreements in our own time. Admittedly, there are several countries and societies that do not adhere to these principles and where people are deprived of their rights. In the process of establishing norms and standards of behaviour between and within states, the different elements of international law are, nevertheless, slowly falling into place.

In the final part of the Lecture, Lakhdar Brahimi examines the extent to which these principles have been put into practice by the member countries of the United Nations. In the case of the United States, which ‘sees itself as the champion of democracy, human rights, justice and equality’, and which ‘actively – even aggressively – promotes these ideals throughout the world’, he wonders whether there is any legitimacy for the exceptionalism it demands in connection with the International Criminal Court and other instruments and situations where International Law is being stretched. And why, he asks, is it only now, after 12 long years of punishing the people of Iraq, that the Security Council has recognised that sanctions against Iraq have not worked, although several UN Agencies and many CSOs have sounded the alarm again and again during these years. Moreover, he notes, neither the Security Council nor the European Union have done enough to address the causes of the Israel-Palestine conflict, while the group of developing countries has not lived up to its responsibility to contribute, for example, to the reform of the Security Council.

Lakhdar Brahimi speakes from wide-ranging experience. Not only has he undertaken a series of substantial assignments for the UN Secretary-General; he has also held several other important political and diplomatic posts during his career. Thus, between 1991 and 1993 he was the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his own country, Algeria, and from 1984 to 1991 he was Under-Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, with special responsibility during the last few years of that period for mediating the end of the civil war in Lebanon. A role he played early in his career is noteworthy: from 1956 to 1961, during Algeria’s independence struggle, he was the representative of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in South-East Asia, residing in Jakarta. This range of experience made him a highly suitable person to give the 2002 Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture was jointly instituted in 1998 by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and Uppsala University in memory of the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. The guidelines used in the selection process state that ‘the privilege of delivering the Lecture is offered to a person who has promoted, in action and spirit, the values that inspired Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General of the United Nations and generally in his life: compassion, humanism and commitment to international solidarity and cooperation’.

Uppsala University has also created, especially for the occasion of the Lecture, a Dag Hammarskjöld Medal, which is awarded to the Lecturer. This has so far been given to Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Sir Brian Urquhart, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs; Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Pugwash Movement; and Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and Uppsala University are proud to publish the text of the Lecture, to which – on the suggestion of the author – the Executive Summary of the Report on United Nations Peace Operations, ‘The Brahimi Report’ (August 2000), is annexed.

Lars Anell, Chairperson, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
Bo Sundqvist, Vice-Chancellor, Uppsala University


This lecture exists also in a written published format.

Listen to the Lecture (35 minutes)


The Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture

is given in memory of Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, and in recognition of the values that inspired him as Secretary-General and generally in his life – compassion, humanism and commitment to international solidarity and cooperation.

The invited speaker should be an outstanding international personality who in significant and innovative ways contributes to a more just, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world through valuable achievements in politics or research.

The Annual Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture is co-organised by Uppsala University and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. The lecture is free and includes a performance by Allmänna sången. The lecture will be filmed and available here on this webpage.


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