UNaccountable? The United Nations, Emergency Powers, and the Rule of Law in Asia
EMERGENCY POWERS IN ASIA, Victor V. Ramraj & Arun K. Thiruvengadam, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming
24 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2008 Last revised: 14 Mar 2015
Date Written: June 30, 2008
This paper examines the use of the rule of law at the international level as a tool - and its application to those who wield it - with a particular emphasis on UN operations in Asia, notably Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Afghanistan. Section one examines the ways in which the rule of law has been used to stabilize conflict zones, focusing on the activities of the UN Security Council from the mid-1990s onwards and in particular on Timor-Leste. Section two considers the extent to which the rule of law has constrained the decisions and actions of the Council, focusing on accountability issues and the apparent compromise of these principles in Afghanistan. A concluding section will consider what light (if any) these operations shed on larger questions raised by the book, such as whether there are discernibly 'Western' or 'Asian' approaches to the role law plays in times of crisis. Of particular interest is the extent to which the United Nations can be said to reflect Western values, as is frequently alleged. A tentative conclusion is that there may be some rhetorical merit to this claim: Western states do largely set the agenda for the human rights framework that is commonly used to judge state actions. Nevertheless, the United Nations and the international system wield executive authority so infrequently and inconstantly that broad conclusions are not yet possible. More interesting, for the purposes of this book, is the manner in which internationally-administered 'emergency' powers demonstrate the willingness of even established democracies to invoke the rule of law instrumentally, as a tool to provide stability - and thus implicitly to compromise rule of law principles in the name of security.
Keywords: rule of law, emergency powers, East Timor, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, United Nations
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