Web-seminar Report - Evolution of Global Rule of Law

The concept of sovereignty was the focus of the second WAAS web-seminar on Global Rule of Law, conducted on May 20th, 2013.  This meeting was preparatory to the conference at the UNO in Geneva on June 3rd.

Keynote speaker Winston Nagan, who heads the Academy’s law project, examined the evolution of the notion of sovereignty from its roots in the 19th century and the gradual transformation taking place in its essential meaning and relevance. The very first terms which introduce the UN Charter affirm the rights of all human beings – “we the people…determine..” The Preamble in Chapter 1 identifies people’s and individuals’ rights in terms of the need for security, human rights and dignity, humanitarianism, economic and social justice, and respect for law. The growing recognition of international humanitarian rights represents another challenge to the notion of absolute, unconditional national sovereignty.

The five-hold rise in democracies and the development of institutions of global governance since the founding of the UN now make it possible to challenge the sovereignty of authoritarian states which do not reflect the will or safeguard the rights of their own people. The globalization of information flows, communications, trade, investment, production, mobility, education, crime and terrorism have also substantially weakened the boundaries of sovereign states. The emergence of huge multinational corporations – the GDP of Walmart is twice that of Israel – further undermine the notion of national sovereignty. The problems confronting humanity today cannot be effectively addressed at the level of the nation-state. The recent international financial crisis resulted from the incapacity of the global regulatory system to keep pace with the rapid expansion of financial markets, since regulatory authority remains rooted at the national level.

The concept of national sovereignty is no longer functionally useful. Its critical role in global security has already been supplanted by collective and cooperative security arrangements such as NATO which need to be further expanded and made more inclusive.

Law is an institution for affirming and protecting values. Rule of law must be based on a constitutive process for converting power into legitimate authority. Nagan argued that the world already has a global constitutive process to serve as the foundation, but that it is not yet sufficiently effective. Law and politics are rooted in authority and authority is rooted in people. Governments are as much a prisoner of public opinion today as they are its leader. Today humanity is represented not only by nation-states but also by a rapidly expanding global civil society of non-governmental organizations.

Foremost among the challenges for global rule of law is to legitimize the institutions of global governance by democratization of the UN and its constituent organizations. The present unrepresentative, undemocratic composition of the UN Security Council must be altered before global rule of law can mature.

The seminar also explored the role of academic institutions, human rights organizations, and international associations of civil society in furthering the advancement of global rule of law. It also discussed the issue of aesthetic rights as a complement to political and economic rights. Ultimately, global rule of law must be fashioned to reflect the will and rights of each individual citizen – not only the minimum rights that need to be protected, but also the undeveloped potential for human development which is the source of new ideas, individual creativity and social evolution. Democracy based on the fundamental value of human capital is fulfilled in individuality. Global society is fulfilled in the fullest psychological development and flowering of the individual.