The UN Security Council and the Rule of Law

Simon Chesterman


This report summarizes key findings and proposes concrete recommendations that would enhance the role of the Council in strengthening a rules-based international system. Section I examines what is meant by “the rule of law” in international affairs before considering in section II how this concept has been used by international organizations, in particular the United Nations and the Security Council. Section III discusses how such concepts might apply to the Council itself, before considering specific cases of Council action: quasi-legislative resolutions in section IV, and quasi-judicial functions in section V. Section VI discusses particular challenges to Council authority that have arisen in the context of sanctions targeted at individuals, suggesting ways in which the Council might respond that would enhance the Council’s legitimacy without undermining the effectiveness of the sanctions regime.

Recommendations appear in bold text in the report. These are intended to be pragmatic and realistic. They exclude proposals that would require amending the Charter or look narrowly at the foreign policy of specific States. They represent an attempt to take into account the interests of large and small States, permanent and non-permanent members of the Council, and developing and developed States. They are presented here as a contribution for further discussion to support the Council’s role in strengthening a rules-based international system and maintaining international peace and security under the rule of law.