Hague Journal on the Rule of Law

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 187–217 | Cite as

The Rule of Law in the 2030 Agenda

  • Noora Arajärvi


While the rule of law is the cornerstone of the international legal order, the analysis of intergovernmental instruments, statements made by States, and negotiation records, indicates that within the UN the rule of law has grown increasingly contested in the past years, culminating at the post-2015 process leading to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This research article, first, sets out the background of the rule of law debate at the UN, followed by analysis of the rule of law elements in the 2030 Agenda, and finally, explores whether the rule of law is a universal concept that carries normative authority, in particular within the SDGs framework. Reflections drawn from the post-2015 process illustrate that the rule of law - or at least the “thick” understanding of the concept - is in decline in institutional and normative contexts. Simultaneously with the broadening of the rule of law - with more substance and interpretations attached to it - its normative specificity is being diluted, which creates uncertainty and disagreement among States on its core content. This conceptual weakness impacts also the implementation of the rule of law elements in the 2030 Agenda, and can be perceived as symptomatic of a broader crisis of the international legal order.


Public international law Rule of law United Nations General assembly Sustainable Development Goals Post-2015 Development Agenda 2030 Agenda 



For very helpful comments and suggestions, I am grateful to the members of the Berlin Potsdam Research Group “The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?”. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the 12th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law in September 2016. All errors remain my own.


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Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berlin Potsdam Research Group “The International Rule of Law - Rise or Decline?”BerlinGermany

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