Message issued by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of Human Rights Day, 10 December:
Few periods in history have brought a greater sense of a seismic shift in the workings of international relations than the present one -- in the interaction between States and between peoples alike. Globalization, the spectre of international terrorism and the increasing recognition of the universality of human rights are all part of this shift. To manage it, we need a vision that can help bring about a new equilibrium. That vision must respect human rights, confront the threat of terrorism, and draw as never before upon the resources and legitimacy of multilateral cooperation. That confronts us with a complex challenge, but one in which we must be guided by one clear principle beyond any other: respect for the international rule of law.
One of the most outstanding legacies of the last century was the development of a body of international law -- humanitarian, refugee, criminal and human rights law -- which, taken together, properly understood and effectively implemented, serve to protect the individual from injustice, from arbitrary treatment, and from assaults on fundamental security.
All too often, these laws are not honoured; all too often, domestic laws are subverted to provide a cloak of legitimacy for breaches of fundamental human rights, or infringements on civil liberties.
Yet the strength of the rule of law lies in its universal relevance and application -- in its grounding in the fundamental human rights of all people. It applies equally to the strong and the weak. Its application is the duty of States large and small. It is the most effective tool to fight criminality and terrorism, and the best guarantee of safety, security and freedom for us all.
On this Human Rights Day, I appeal to all governments, communities and individuals to recommit themselves to the universal application of the rule of law. Let us ensure that we never take this precious legacy for granted. Let us nurture, develop, strengthen and defend it. On this Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission.