The Community of Democracies UN Democracy Caucus

Paula Schriefer
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs 
New York City
September 25, 2012

I wish to thank HE President of Mongolia and the Mongolian Mission for convening this meeting and express our support for Mongolia’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies. I would also like to add my congratulations to Maria Leissner on her appointment as Secretary General.

The core of the rule of law is that every citizen enjoys individual rights which are protected by law and that such rights must be respected and protected by governments in a transparent and accountable way, consistent with international human rights law. Even government and government officials must obey the law and are answerable to the law if they fail to obey it.

In a state where there is rule of law, the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, and members of minorities can all expect that the law will be applied fairly, equally and predictably to them.

In my own country, we support equal access to justice for women and girls including in cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault. We addressed this topic in the pledges we submitted in connection with Monday’s High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law. We want to make certain that across the United States, police and prosecutors develop best practices in domestic abuse cases to guarantee that victims who report abuse and assault are protected, evidence is gathered and preserved, and cases are prosecuted.

As we also stated in our pledges, we also intend to focus on strengthening access to legal counsel for indigent defendants who are accused of crimes and for low-income Americans who need civil legal assistance to secure fundamental needs such as housing, employment, access to health benefits, child custody, and safety.

The United States is also working around the world to eliminate the lawlessness of terrorism and organized crime. In countries on every continent, we are working to train police, prosecutors and judges to build their capacity, boost their technical skills, incorporate best practices – and to themselves obey the law and safeguard human rights as they go about their work.

I want to thank UNDEF Executive Head Roland Rich for his remarks and for the important work UNDEF is doing with civil society throughout the world. UNDEF’s work is especially important now, with so many areas of the world in transition and feeling their way out of systems where there was no rule of law. All of us can increase the reach of rule of law by doing as much as we can to support UNDEF’s work.

Civil society plays a central role in ensuring rule of law. I am glad to see civil society organizations represented here today. All over the world we have seen an upsurge in civil society that has helped promote government accountability, equality and fairness before the law, and wider citizen participation in decision making. As someone who spent nearly 20 years working for civil society, I can say that you are the independent force that keeps government honest and playing by the rules, that ensures citizen participation, and that gives a powerful voice to those who might otherwise be overlooked.

Some governments have responded by cracking down, using law selectively and arbitrarily to punish critical speech. But each time a reporter is silenced, or an activist is threatened, it does not strengthen a government, it weakens a nation. You can count on the United States to push back against this and provide political and financial support for embattled civil society groups around the world.

Two years ago, with strong U.S. support, the UN Human Rights Council supported creation of a Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceable assembly and we are leading a resolution reaffirming these fundamental rights at the current session of the Human Rights Council. In this way, I hope we have strengthened the hand of those who advocate for greater rule of law. I encourage the civil society representatives here today to let us know what else we can do to strengthen your role and the role of citizens.

The antithesis of rule of law is corruption. Experience has shown us that government transparency and openness are the most effective ways to counter corruption. Through the Open Government Partnership (OGP), in which many of you in this room are involved from both government and civil society we are working together to increase government transparency world-wide and make government more responsive to citizens. This is the core of democracy and is essential for both reinforcing rule of law and reducing corruption. Because we know corruption kills a country’s potential. It drains resources. It protects dishonest leaders. It takes away people’s drive to improve themselves and their communities.

Finally, I want to conclude by saying that rule of law safeguards human rights and creates a level economic playing field. Countries with open governments, open economies, and open societies increasingly flourish. They become more prosperous, healthier, more secure, and more peaceful. Countries that have strong rule of law are better equipped than autocracies to offer constructive outlets for political grievances and create opportunities for mobility and prosperity that provide alternatives to violent extremism, a danger that we have personally felt all too closely in recent days.

Thank you again for convening this important meeting and for allowing me the chance to present the perspective of the United States.