Remarks in the Open Panel Debate on Corruption, Fragility, and Conflict
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction and thank you to the Government of Denmark for holding this high-level segment and for your warm welcome in Copenhagen. I’d also like to commend Transparency International for organizing the IACC and helping us to focus on corruption as a destabilizing force and threat to our global security.
Corruption plunders national wealth, hinders economic growth and investment, and perpetuates a cycle of poverty. When ordinary citizens believe their leaders use their authority for personal gain, it weakens faith in democracy and undermines the rule of law with devastating results.
Corruption facilitates transnational organized crime, in fact, it is essential to their business model so we have to be mindful at all times that the good work we are trying to do together will face permanent headwinds. At its core, official corruption breaks the “social contract” between the people and those who they’ve entrusted to govern them. It is this destabilizing force that my team – the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs or “INL” – addresses through our diplomacy and foreign assistance programs.
Around the world, the United States seeks to address the underlying issues that drive crime; to strengthen the rule of law and the institutions that help enforce it; and to bolster governments’ efforts to fight corruption. So I’d like to highlight a few of the tools the U.S. State Department utilizes in a holistic approach to combat corruption.
First, political pressure can build support for reforms. We are advocates for reform – bilaterally and in numerous international fora – to gather political will. This political pressure can be effective both through private diplomacy or delivered in a very public way that draws attention to an issue or particular corrupt actors. One example is last month’s UN Security Council discussion, led by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, on how corruption breeds conflict and instability by driving a wedge between government and the people. The OAS General Assembly earlier this year is another example, where we supported a resolution to hold the Maduro regime and its corrupt leaders accountable for their unconstitutional interruption of democracy in Venezuela.
Treaties such as the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) are an important starting point for such discussions because they reflect widely established roadmaps and tools to guide reform.
Civil society and independent journalists also play a critical role because citizen advocacy and oversight are key to holding governments accountable to their end of the social contract. Fragile and post-conflict settings are ones in which an active and constructive citizenry and a free media, can be most critical.
Another tool is our foreign assistance programs. These help institutions become more resilient against criminal threats and the efforts of malign actors to undermine them. They promote laws and court systems that are fair, legitimate, and accountable. They accomplish this through targeted training, mentoring, and other technical assistance.
For example, I’ve just come from Ukraine, where INL assistance is building citizen trust in law enforcement following the 2014 Euromaidan revolution and the ensuing conflict with Russia. Since 2014, INL has worked with Ukraine to rebuild criminal justice institutions and restore the rule of law. We supported the Ukrainian government to rollout the now over 16,000-strong Patrol Police, an effort which disbanded the corrupt and inefficient traffic police and replaced them with a modern protect-and-serve force. While their predecessor unit was once viewed as the most corrupt entity, the Patrol Police is now one of the most trusted law enforcement entities. The importance of measures to build communication, collaboration, and trust between the public sector and citizens in conflict-affected settings is another lesson from INL’s experience.
In Africa, we are helping to address the weak governance that can fuel terrorist movements. From 2009-2015, Boko Haram gained support in Nigeria partly in opposition to corruption and oppression. At the same time, Nigeria’s previous leaders stole large amounts of money that could have been used to improve the rule of law, and a host of other good purposes. Since then, Nigeria has taken steps toward reform, including combating corruption. INL supports the Nigerian anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which, with the help of whistleblowers, has recovered $200 million in stolen assets.
Looking back to Ukraine, in the immediate aftermath of the Maidan, INL, together with our colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice and in partnership with the United Kingdom, hosted an international practitioner meeting to support Ukraine’s efforts to recover stolen assets. In a challenging post-Maidan environment, this initiative helped secure evidence, trace assets, and begin capacity building for new agencies in Ukraine so they could start to go after the kleptocrats. Now they are successfully pursuing their own confiscations and replenishing the public trust.
Finally, INL holds the corrupt accountable through visa and financial sanctions. Through the Global Magnitsky Act and other legal authorities, the United States prevents corrupt officials and their immediate family members from traveling to the United States or parking their ill-gotten gains in our financial system. Blocking assets in the U.S. financial system, and keeping corrupt officials and their families out sends a powerful message. These actions gain wide press coverage and and, in some cases, lead to local investigations.
These are just a few examples of how we work alongside our partners to fight corruption and to strengthen the rule of law globally, including in conflict and post-conflict zones. Through this, we are working to improve the security and stability for people around the world. I look forward to hearing from our other panelists and our audience. Thank you.