States Must Uphold Rule of Law, Fundamental Freedoms When Responding to Global Emergencies, Speakers Stress, as Sixth Committee Continues Debate on Principle

Underscoring the need to uphold the rule of law when introducing measures to respond to global emergencies or incorporating new technology into justice systems, speakers warned of the potential to erode human rights and fundamental freedoms, as the Sixth Committee continued its debate on the rule of law at the national and international levels today.(For background, see Press Release GA/L/3658.)

The representative of Argentina, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic led to tensions in legal systems throughout the world, stressed that the rule of law must inform the response to such emergencies.Its principles cannot be less relevant when addressing uncertain situations, he added.Rather, adhering to them provides legitimacy to restrictive measures adopted by Governments in response to these situations.

Similarly, Sri Lanka’s representative pointed out that the urgency with which action must be taken during a pandemic promotes hasty decisions without scrutiny, along with the use of power without restraint.During the COVID-19 pandemic, he observed, the fundamental freedoms of assembly, speech and mobility were curtailed, and rights to decent labour, health and education suffered major setbacks.

The representative of Slovenia, while acknowledging that instituting a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic was necessary given the crisis, stressed that the implementation of restrictions must always respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.In many instances, such limitations were used to repress political opposition, civil society and the media.For its part, Slovenia’s foreign policy prioritizes strengthening the rule of law by protecting the rights of the individual, she noted.

Thailand’s representative highlighted his country’s adoption of a whole-of-society approach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.Crises must not weaken global commitment to the rule of law, he stressed, adding that Governments, in containing the spread of pandemics, must strike the right balance to act in people’s best interest while upholding fundamental legal principles.

The representative of South Africa, illustrating another aspect, pointed out that gender-based violence intensified during lockdown measures imposed in response to the pandemic.To address this, the Government passed legislation against such violence that will make it easier for victims to provide evidence in such cases and have access to a support structure for the implementation of protection orders.

Along those lines, the representative of Ecuador said that technology has the potential to promote greater access to justice by optimizing processes and improving transparency.However, the absence of an appropriate technological infrastructure and legal framework can deepen deficiencies in national judicial systems and negatively affect procedural guarantees.

Georgia’s representative said that, despite technology’s vital role in protecting and promoting human rights, it is being used by some to violate the same.Authoritarian States, she pointed out, are using new technologies as tools to spread disinformation and unleash cyberattacks targeting democracies.Georgia has experienced this first-hand on several occasions, she reported.

The representative of Sierra Leone also highlighted potential issues, noting that — while technology can provide more-accessible services and innovative dispute-resolution mechanisms — its potential negative impacts must be carefully examined.Adequate financing, capacity-building and technology assistance for countries are key aspects of this process.Highlighting national initiatives in this area, he detailed the implementation of “e-court” and “e-justice” systems in Sierra Leone.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates, on that point, detailed the adoption of an “e-prosecution” model by his country’s judiciary during the COVID‑19 pandemic, among other flexible measures to guarantee access to justice without interruption or delay.He went on to underscore that peace and dialogue are the means to solve all mutual differences, and that this belief forms the essence of his country’s foreign policy.

Myanmar’s representative, however, stressed that, regardless of how many legally binding international instruments Member States have ratified, it makes no difference to the lives of their people unless the rule of law is guaranteed nationally.“The rule of law in my country is being buried and tremendous injustice is being inflicted on the people,” he reported, calling for action both at the regional and international level.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Morocco (for the African Group), Israel, Nicaragua, United States, Nepal, El Salvador, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, Mozambique, Guatemala, Iran, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea, Switzerland, Cameroon, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Senegal, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Syria, Kuwait, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Qatar, Ethiopia, Cuba, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Chile, Türkiye, United Republic of Tanzania, Sudan, Japan, Nigeria, Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Niger, Timor-Leste, Zambia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives and Uruguay.

The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Monday, 10 October, to conclude its consideration of the rule of law at the national and international levels and commence its consideration of crimes against humanity.

Source: UN General Assembly

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