Board Member Spotlight: Hans Corell

Hans Corell served as under-secretary-general for legal affairs and the legal counsel of the United Nations from 1994 to 2004. Before joining the United Nations, he was ambassador and under-secretary for legal and consular affairs in his native Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1984 to 1994. He is a consultant to Mannheimer Swartling, Sweden's largest law firm, and he was recently elected chairman of the board of trustees of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Lund University, Sweden.

The following remarks are from an interview conducted March 9, 2006.


imageEC: What activities have you been occupied with lately?

HC: I've been actively engaged in the rule of law work lately addressed by the International Bar Association (IBA) and the American Bar Association (ABA). I believe very much in the idea of starting a rule of law movement for the world. Nobody should be waving his or her own flag over that, it should be precisely a movement. One should engage as many organizations and prominent personalities as possible to bring the message forward. As far as I'm concerned, it's the lack of the rule of law that causes so many of the problems we are faced with in the world today.

I'm also working on conferences on disarmament. I just participated in a meeting of the Article VI Forum, which took place in The Hague. Those are small states who've taken on the issue of bringing forward the question of the nonproliferation treaty, which is sort of at a stalemate right at the moment. The undertakings there by the nuclear states are simply not being delivered. The idea was that they should also start mounting down their nuclear arsenals, and not much has happened.

I am meeting also with private enterprises that engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR), the global compact that the Secretary-General launched a few years ago. I continue to discuss this with representatives for business. I believe this is very important.

EC: Do you feel like that's a natural extension of human rights law?

HC: Many companies look at it from the perspective of what kind of performance they are going to deliver. I would like to view it in a more general context, as work contributing to the protection of human rights. The global compact is precisely that. One of the features of the global compact, that companies should in their annual report have a short chapter on human rights, was something that I threw out in the air in a seminar in Tällberg in 1998. (Read the speech at http://www.un.org/law/counsel/english/address_06_26_98.pdf)

I'm a lawyer, and it's natural for me to approach matters from a legal perspective. But I've also started looking at economy more than I used to do. I'm rather concerned, to say the least, to see the projections that the economists make for the world for the next 45, 50 years. If you look at GNP in the world today, the United States has some 28 percent, the European Union has 34 percent, China has 4 percent, and India has 2 percent. By the middle of this century, China will have bypassed the United States; China will have 28 percent, the United States will be down to 26. The European Union will be down from 34 to 15 percent, India up from 2 to 17 percent. Japan will have another 4 percent. These figures were published in Business Week in August last year. What worries me most is that the rest of the world would have to make do with 10 percent. Now, these are projections, and I'm not an economist. But even if half of this is true, it's a tremendous geopolitical shift that we are seeing. What does this mean in political terms, and what does it mean in legal terms?

If now, the superpower deals with international law and indeed their own national law the way they do, what will happen if the next hegemon is not a democracy under the rule of law? That's the question I'm constantly coming back to. I don't want to project a pessimistic picture for the future, but I am concerned that people don't seem to focus more on this element. A lot of work is now being outsourced to other countries, because it's cheaper and quicker than we could do ourselves. This is the result of a market economy. I'm all for this, but this means there will be tremendous changes in the future.

As a layman, I always believe that if you have different standards in the world – people live up here and down there – and you have a communicating vessel so that you open a valve in between, the standard of living will lower in some countries and raise in others. Economists say, "Hans, this is not really so. We should be able to maintain our standard of living whilst the others are raising theirs." Well, maybe. But there will be tremendous competition. Countries living in the northern hemisphere who are in desperate need of fuel for heating and for transportation, will they be able to compete on the world market for this fuel? You have a growing middle class in India and China. That's really the motor in an economy. The middle class in India is more than the total population of the United States. Today, the world population is 6.5 billion. One projection for the middle of this century is 9.1 billion. If we then also have climate change and desertification – which means that vast tracts of land will not be able to feed people anymore – what will the results be? I realize that these are rather general remarks about a very serious issue, but I can see the writing on the wall. What I'm concerned about is that it seems that some politicians, however centrally placed, may not be able to discover this writing.

EC: Do these concerns relate back to the proposals you submitted to the ABA and IBA?

HC: We are discussing what is possible, how to start a global rule of law movement. The ABA has been very active here, but so has the IBA. We shouldn't be inventing new institutions. There are plenty of institutions out there. What is important is that we have existing institutions join hands and work in the same direction. What I would like to see is a general mapping of the countries in the world on their status as to the rule of law. Like a doctor makes a physical examination, with a checklist. When you discuss the rule of law, there's a tendency for people to think immediately in the direction of criminal law. I don't view it in that way, because of my background. I came from the courts, but the government also works a lot with administrative law. If you think about it, in any society, most people will never face a court. I would suggest that the fewer the better. But everyone will sooner or later interact with administrative authorities – paying taxes, receiving permission to build, registering a land title, that sort of thing. It is important that they deal with people who also apply the rule of law, that they do their jobs in a just manner. Corruption is one of the major diseases in many countries of the world. It destroys so many efforts to establish rule of law societies.