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Egils Levits, President of Latvia, focused on justice and the rule of law in his UN speech

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Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia, is shown addressing the general debate of the GA's 74th session of the UN General Assembly. UN Photo/Cia Pak

As President of Latvia, Egils Levits, stated in the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly recently, 30 years ago as a young politician and lawyer, he had the opportunity to fight for the restoration of Latvia’s independence.  As he explained, “Latvia, like Estonia and Lithuania, was occupied by the Soviet Union, at the beginning of World War II. Unlike the Western part of Europe where the war ended in 1945, the Baltic States only regained their independence in 1991. We will forever be grateful to those states that never recognized the occupation of our countries as legitimate (dejure).”

As explained by the Latvian President, “our independence was regained through strong mass movements, whose demands were rooted in international law. This was the result of a non-violent freedom fight – a rare occurrence in history.”

“At the same time, it was a triumph for international law”, said President Egils Levits.  “It proves that even apparently hopeless situations can be overcome by belief in the law and strong civil society. Sooner or later, justice will always prevail.”

The Latvian President went onto say, “In the following 25 years, I had the privilege to serve as judge in two international or supranational courts – first the European Court of Human Rights, then, the European Court of Justice.”

“This explains why justice and the rule of law” at the national and international level is so important for the Latvian state, the Latvian nation, and for me personally” the Latvian President stated. “I was therefore gratified earlier today to deposit Latvia’s declaration of joining the jurisdiction of the Inter-national court of justice as yet another sign of Latvia’s strong commitment to the rule of law and a rules-based international order.” 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (on the right) met with Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia, during the UN general debate recently. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Besides addressing international law and the rule of law in his speech, the Latvian President also discussed Hybrid threats to states and democracy, and digital technologies. Besides favoring a strong, multilateral, inclusive, rules-based international order, the Latvian President made it clear that “this was essential for global peace and security.” He emphasized in particular, that “it must be our joint responsibility to defend and strengthen it.” As the President summed it up, ” the United Nations is and must remain the central forum for multilateralism and a rules-based global order.”  In addition, Latvian President Levits added that “Experience shows that our goals are best achieved through cooperation in multilateral fora. With this aim, Latvia actively seeks opportunities to contribute to a more peaceful, just world. For example, over the last year, Latvia is proud to have presided over the 5th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty.”

However, one of the most memorable parts of the Latvian President’s statement was when he mentioned the words “territorial integrity”. He stated that “the multi-lateral order also demands that territorial integrity and sovereignty, as enshrined in the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, is respected by all UN Member States.” Here’s what the Latvian Presidents said in his own words: “The multilateral order also demands that territorial integrity and sovereignty, as enshrined in the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, is respected by all UN Member States.”

Here’s where Latvian President Egils Levits said: “I must point to Russia’s open disrespect for the principles of international law, as violation of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s territorial integrity continues. Such brazen disregard for international law must not be accepted as the “new normal.”

The President added, “Latvia’s experience shows that rule of law, like democracy and respect for human rights, is an important catalyst for the successful development of a state. Latvia will therefore strongly support the consolidation of these principles in international law”, the Latvian President stated.

Ann Charles
Ann Charles is UN Bureau Chief of "Baltic Review" based in New York City. She covers diplomatic activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the world body's work in human rights, education, culture, the environment, and tourism, among other global concerns.

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