Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Rule of Law

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivers remarks at the UNSC Open Debate on Rule of Law

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 12, 2023


Thank you, Mr. President, Foreign Minister Hayashi, for convening this urgent open debate on how we can collectively strengthen the Rule of Law. We are pleased the Government of Japan has chosen during your Presidency to highlight this important topic at a critical moment. And thank you, Secretary-General Guterres, for your very cogent and strong statement on the importance of the Rule of Law. I also thank ICJ President Judge Donoghue and Professor Akande for your thoughtful presentations.

As you heard from Professor Akande, the UN Charter was forged, as it says, to “establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” In short, the Rule of Law is what brought us together. It is what, in those famous words of former Secretary-General Hammarskjöld, “save[s] us from hell.” No person, no prime minister or president, no state or country is above the law.

That is an ironclad commitment for the United States and a fundamental principle of the United Nations. We are committed to upholding and acting strictly in accordance with the UN Charter, which offers legal protections that benefits all states. Instead of elevating some provisions over others, the United States embraces our obligations under the UN Charter as a whole.

Not least among them is the Charter’s prohibition on the threat or use of force and the promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And yet, despite the unparalleled advancements we have made toward peace and prosperity since the UN’s founding, today, certain states are flagging or failing in their commitment to the UN Charter’s principles – or enabling rule breakers to carry on without accountability.

The most glaring example is sitting right here in these chambers. There is no international legal basis for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of the UN Charter, and members of its forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. And the UN General Assembly resoundingly passed a resolution that clearly and unequivocally condemned Russia’s illegal so-called referenda. It is no wonder many see a crisis of confidence when it comes to upholding the Charter and the UN’s founding promise and principles. We must hold Russia accountable – just as we must hold accountable all those who do not respect sovereignty, territorial integrity, and human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In Russia, in the DPRK, in Iran, in Nicaragua, and in Syria, horrifying reports detail how governments are unjustly detaining, torturing, or killing political opponents, activists, human rights defenders, or journalists. And in Burma, Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Sudan we have seen peaceful protestors – people demanding their basic human rights – attacked and abused.

Right now, the Taliban is undermining the rights to education enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It makes Afghanistan a pariah, the only country in the world where half the population is barred from access to education beyond the sixth grade.

The United States will continue to defend, protect, and advance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to fight against discrimination, inequity, and inequality in all its forms. This is why we worked collectively through the General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, and with partners to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is why we are calling for the OHCHR report’s recommendations on human rights abuses in China to be implemented. And it is why we are raising DPRK human rights abuses in the Security Council as an unequivocal issue of international peace and security.

As members of the Security Council, we must address these issues. And permanent members in particular must live up to our special responsibility to serve – not dominate – the people of the world. That means meeting, at the very least, the basic and most fundamental standards of international law.

Take, for example, nonproliferation and arms control. Together, many nations of the world have established rules and norms of behavior for nonproliferation and arms control to foster stability and to help prevent the outbreak of nuclear war. This work has been enormously successful. We must continue to strengthen and advance the international nonproliferation and arms control regimes.

To that end, the United States is promoting the highest possible standards of nuclear safety, security, and safeguards worldwide, and helping partners build capacity to reduce proliferation risks. But last year, the DPRK launched an unprecedented 69 ballistic missiles, all of which violated multiple Security Council resolutions. And earlier this year, the DPRK reaffirmed its intent to mass produce tactical nuclear weapons to “exponentially” increase its nuclear arsenal this year. Many have raised the very real concern that the DPRK is prepared to conduct a seventh nuclear test. The DPRK is clearly and grossly disregarding international obligations, but so are those that are protecting and abetting the DPRK.

China and Russia repeatedly stopped the Security Council from condemning the DPRK’s unlawful actions in 2022 by forcing the Council to stay silent, blocking the rest of the Council’s attempts to carry out our responsibility to maintain peace and security. All of these violations and abuses of international law require accountability. If there is no justice, there will be no peace.

Fortunately, the international system has many, many tools at its disposal to enforce international law. In light of all the violations of international law we see today, we have to ask ourselves: Are we are using these tools effectively?

For our part, the United States will continue to advance the rule of law both internationally and domestically. And we are willing to work with anyone seeking to do the same. We have not always been perfect. But we are holding ourselves to a higher standard, and we are working with our partner nations to contribute to a stable international system. Together, we are improving prosecutorial and judicial effectiveness, bolstering accountability and transparency of criminal justice agencies, and promoting criminal defense and legal aid. We will continue to do everything – everything – in our power to institutionalize respect for human rights and the rule of law at all levels. International law can save us from hell. And with any luck, it will bring us closer to peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.