The UN Secretary-General’s Report of August 2005 underlined the need for a more coherent institutional framework for international legal governance, with better coordination and monitoring. At the 2005 UN World Summit, all states in attendance supported, in practice, the rule of law. However, there are divergent viewpoints and understandings of what the rule of law at the international level conceptually is.

The Building the Rule of Law in International Affairs project seeks to address the above-mentioned need, and to contribute toward an international rule of law using a coordinated approach to remedy some of the limitations of international law. The overarching objective of the project’s initial stage is to develop draft codes of ethics for key actors operating internationally. As such, the project’s first workshop, “Ethical Supports for Strengthening the International Rule of Law,” was held at CIGI on October 19-20, 2009.

The international workshop was organized and supported by The Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law (IEGL) Australia (a joint initiative of the United Nations University, Griffith University and QUT in association with ANU), CIGI, The United Nations University (UNU) Tokyo, and the Australian Governance Research Network. It was led by Ramesh Thakur, director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and CIGI distinguished fellow, and Charles Sampford, director of The Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, and advised by Simon Chesterman, global professor at the New York University’s School of Law Singapore Programme. Workshop participants included academics and practitioners from relevant disciplines and institutions, who partook in presentations and discussions under Chatham House rules. The workshop’s central purpose was to consider the kinds of ethical supports that can strengthen the rule of law at the international level; the importance of securing ethical behaviour of particular international players to strengthening the international rule of law.

The workshop compared and contrasted the roles of different actors and groups of officials and professionals who have a role in making the rule of law effective domestically and the ethical standards that encourage them to uphold it. It further examined their international equivalents and the ethical standards that inform their behaviour.

The discussion considered the codes of conduct applied to various actors in international and domestic law, and devised suggestions to develop and enforce codes applying to: national politicians; national representatives on and appointees to international bodies; national and international civil servants; national and international judges and tribunal members; legal professions; the media; and national, corporate and individual litigants. The rule of law is not just about international law or about the application of universal rules to sovereign states, it is also about having rules, for all forms of institutional power.

Participants examined how the international rule of law may be articulated, advocated and institutionalized. Presentations focused on: defining and promoting the international rule of law; the way in which relevant ethical norms and codes might be mutually supportive of each other; the interplay between power, ideas and values and the manner in which legal principles and structures can capture these dynamics; the international legal considerations that lie at the heart of political debates; professions without borders, judicial ethics and the international rule of law; as well as recent and historical case studies that serve to illustrate the successes and failures of the international rule of law.

The project’s second workshop will be held at CIGI in the fall of 2010; it will focus on potential institutional options and the institutional supports necessary to develop and strengthen the international rule of law. Each workshop will result in the creation of an edited volume designed to help operationalize the rule of law in the international system.

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