President Shattuck, Professor Balazs, fellow diplomats, distinguished guests, thank you. I’m happy to be here as part of your important lecture series. It’s always a pleasure to be in the lively community of CEU. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.
I know very well the role that CEU plays in providing a space for debate and dialogue in Budapest. Hungary and the United States owe you a debt of gratitude for all you do to promote open discussion. We share the assumptions that answers are seldom simple, that critical questions are fundamental to democracies, and that challenging each other’s views is a sign of political health. I look forward to moving our shared objectives forward today, to consider the issues together, and to continue our quest for answers.
I would like to talk about a few of the challenges of the day, topics that come from different corners of the world, but that are united, in my view, around an extremely important principle, one that is shared by the United States and Europe: the rule of law. I will touch on ISIL, on Ukraine, on the migration crisis, and on the global problem of corruption. My focus on rule of law is one that I hope will cast a sharp light on these issues.
I would like to draw your attention to something about the rule of law that is often missed. Legal issues often strike us as technical and tedious – because they often are – but in truth, the rule of law as an ideal is thrilling. It has built-in excitement, impact, and consequence. It is what moved Pope John Paul II to comment, “When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”
President Obama said in Munich last month that rule of law was one of the three pillars of “real democracy” in the transatlantic community, just as much as fair elections and free press. The rule of law is part of our shared foundation. It constrains the arbitrary exercise of power, and it holds us to the principles of fairness, justice, and human rights. It makes everyone accountable to a system of laws that we ourselves, openly and by consensus, have passed, and that we enforce equally. As John Adams put it, “We have a government of laws, and not of men.”
Rule of law helps to make sense of baffling issues. It answers questions. It frees us from sloppy thinking. It is the greatest achievement of a democracy: an embedded mechanism to regulate its extremes. Rule of law is far more revolutionary than any regime based on the raw national will, the will of the raw majority.
It’s this ideal, this adherence to principle, that helps to make clear our policy toward ISIL, toward Ukraine, and toward the migration crisis. Our shared commitment to the rule of law points us to just solutions to very diverse foreign policy challenges and threats. It also fortifies our commitment to tackle corruption, because although the rule of law cannot guarantee that there will be no corruption, it can ensure that there will be consequences for those who violate the law, no matter their status, or their connections.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has lasted as long as the foundations of the European Union, and with good reason. The EU’s Lisbon Treaty stresses the same ideals – “inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law.” As European Commissioner Frans Timmermans said, “The rule of law is not just an inspiration, it is also an aspiration–a principle that guides both our internal and external actions.” That is, the rule of law is what we are, and what we want to be. What we do in response to threats and challenges all over the globe is a reflection of our democratic principles at home. It is in our DNA.
First, then, it’s worth considering a group that operates entirely in the absence of these principles. As President Eisenhower said, “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”
ISIL is lawless. That is its defining feature. It declares itself a state, but it isn’t a state, because in the place of law at its foundation, it has violence, coercion, and terror. In his speech in a mosque in Baltimore this February, President Obama noted that ISIL is a group of organized extremists who draw selectively from Islamic texts and twist them in an attempt to justify their arbitrary, vicious killing and their terror. Groups like ISIL are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. But, the President added, “We must never give them that legitimacy. They’re not defending Islam. They’re not defending Muslims. The vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women, and children.”
To defeat ISIL, we have organized the Counter-ISIL Coalition, a group of 66 countries, including Hungary and every NATO member. We are fortunate to have Hungary contributing in a significant way. In 2014, ISIL began to seize territory in Syria and Iraq, overrunning major cities and committing unspeakable atrocities.
Coalition airstrikes – now close to 12,000 of them – have liberated Kobani, Tikrit, Ramadi, and other key cities and towns from ISIL. We have pushed the terrorists out of 40 percent of the territory that they once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria. We have degraded their leadership, attacked their revenue sources, and disrupted their supply lines. And currently we are engaged, as you are all aware, in a diplomatic initiative aimed at trying to end the war in Syria. That civil war fuels ISIL, and in doing what we are doing now – what all of us, the United States, Hungary and our partners in the coalition are doing — we are working collectively to isolate, weaken, and defeat them.
ISIL is so far from the rule of law that Secretary Kerry has declared ISIL responsible for genocide–the ultimate war crime. ISIL is responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Turkmen, and also against some Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. ISIL kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia. Its worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its vicious ideology. These crimes against humanity are the basis of the UN Security Council’s resolution last December to condemn ISIL, and to hold it accountable for its crimes.
The essence of the rule of law is that all citizens, no matter how few they are in number, enjoy equal protection by law. There are no extra-legal persons. Ultimately, the rule of law will prevail – and the facts about ISIL’s crimes of torture, mass murder, rape, and enslavement will be brought to light by an independent investigation and through a formal legal determination made by a tribunal. The United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve, and analyze the evidence of atrocities, and we will do all we can to see that all perpetrators are held accountable. This process will assure the victims of ISIL’s atrocities that the United States recognizes and confirms the despicable nature of the crimes that have been committed against them.
The best response to genocide is not more violence but prosecution, along with a collective reaffirmation of the rights of ISIL’s victims. What ISIL wants to annihilate, we protect and preserve.
That requires defeating ISIL, but it also demands the rejection of bigotry and discrimination – those things that facilitated the rise of ISIL in the first place – and the reinstatement of the rule of law. It is not enough to catch a war criminal. We must do so while upholding his civil rights. It is not enough to stop a terrorist. We must do so while maintaining his civil liberties. The rule of law, civil liberties, and civil rights – these are not burdens. These are what make all of us safer and stronger. As Ambassador Samantha Power said, “Influence is best measured not only by military hardware and GDP, but also by other people’s perceptions that we… are using our power legitimately. That belief – that we are acting in the interests of the global commons and in accordance with the rule of law – is what the military would call a force multiplier.” The expertise we in the Counter-ISIL Coalition bring to obliterating ISIL is the same as our expertise in prosecuting it and in restoring the rights of those who suffered so horribly by it. That is how we win.
That consistency and legitimacy is the basis of our position toward Ukraine as well. We consider Ukraine’s sovereignty to be supreme, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be illegal. Period.
In the United States our view of Ukraine is to support a European state, help it meet its democratic aspirations, and to forge a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. If Ukraine is not whole, if all of its people are not free, and if it’s not at peace, then in a sense, Europe is not either. But even more than that, our concern is defending the global rules-based system that we are working together to build. We all have a stake in upholding those fundamental rules. Borders and the territorial integrity of a democratic state cannot be changed by force. If that rule does not stand, countries around the world may presume that their interests, too, can be advanced at the barrel of a gun.
Our response has been to impose sanctions on Russia. We do this legally, by consensus with our European partners. Sanctions are not an end unto themselves. But we shouldn’t forget why they were imposed in the first place: to stand up for Ukraine’s fundamental rights – rights based on international law, which have been accepted since World War II.
Russia has a simple choice: fully implement Minsk or continue to face economically damaging sanctions. And the path to sanctions relief is clear. Russia withdraws. Russia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, just as it insists on respect for its own. What is at stake is the inherent right of citizens in a democracy to make their country’s choices and to determine its future. If we don’t stand up for that rule, large states will be given a free pass to bully their neighbors into submission.
There is also another side to this focus on rule of law with respect to Ukraine. As the new Ukrainian government begins its work with its Central Council, the Rada, under new leadership and a new governing coalition, it’s important to remember that Ukraine has already accomplished a great deal. It has achieved a stable currency, a cleaner banking sector, budgetary discipline, energy independence, and a new police force. What it still needs, badly, is further reform. 2016 can and should be the year that Ukraine makes reform irreversible. Ukraine needs a new Prosecutor General. It needs deep judicial reform. It’s time to start locking up people who have robbed the Ukrainian population for too long, and it’s time to irradiate the cancer of corruption. While the rule of law cannot guarantee that there will be no corruption, it can ensure that there will be consequences for those who violate the law.
President Obama recently hailed the European Union, with its 500 million people, its 24 languages, and its 28 countries, as one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times. Every member of the EU is a democracy, and no EU country has raised arms against another. These are the ideals Ukraine aspires to and Russia wants to defeat. We want good relations with Russia, but we will not sacrifice the territorial integrity of a democratic nation. We stand by our friends. Our collective security rests on a foundation of our shared values.
But as the President also pointed out, even as we take steps that are required to ensure our security, we cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings who need our help now.
Migration and the unprecedented flow of refugees into Europe has presented the most significant challenge to Europe’s resources, and its solidarity, in decades.
There are many Hungarians who have responded to the refugee and migration crisis with generosity and compassion by providing migrants and refugees with shelter and safety in times of urgent need. We believe that the most effective way to discourage dangerous sea voyages and abuses by smugglers is to provide refugees with better access to jobs and education in the countries where they are currently residing, so that they will not feel compelled to take such risks to secure a better life for their families. We hope that the additional EU assistance provided under the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan will complement Turkey’s efforts, and make it easier for Turkey to continue to welcome and host refugees seeking protection, and to look for ways to continue expanding work and educational opportunities for refugees.
Here also, the rule of law plays a crucial role. The UN’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, drafted in the aftermath of World War II, and the 1967 Protocol to that Convention, require that all those here in Europe who are entitled to asylum and protection are received under humane conditions, and have their cases dealt with fairly, with respect the individual’s due process rights. It also means that all those who have no right to stay must be returned to their countries of origin rapidly, efficiently, and safely. Solidarity and responsibility go hand in hand. We must be able to trust that the common rules are applied effectively and vigorously, everywhere and at all times. The implications of irregular migration to Europe pose a severe challenge that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, reflecting the values that Europe and the United States share. That includes the Joint Action Plan.
Some have said that Europe’s values of tolerance are the real root of the migration crisis – that Europe’s tolerance is actually at fault, because it created a “loophole.” In this view, migrants are exploiting Europe’s values for their own gain, streaming in through that loophole. I disagree. Tolerance is not a technicality that migrants exploit. Instead, migrants and refugees want desperately to benefit from what is at the foundation of our tolerance – the rule of law.
Our feelings of tolerance are good, but our laws are better. An appeal to the higher conscience is only a partial, preliminary approach to migration. If we’re dealing just with our impulses, then we have lost our anchor. We must appeal not only to our higher selves, but to something less subjective – namely legal mechanisms.
International laws govern what can be done with refugees, laws essentially invented to safeguard the rights of Central Europeans after 1945. These have to be honored, however we feel. – Our public affairs are to be fixed by legal codes. They are fixed by laws.
Our response to the refugee crisis is not just about a moral imperative to show tolerance, and it is certainly not an occasion for us to preach tolerance to others. Instead, it draws on a fact – a basic legal imperative: to uphold the human rights of those seeking asylum. Because this is the law. When we don’t protect the legal rights of those legitimately seeking refuge, as President Obama pointed out, “You start seeing… an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality that tries to blame our problems on… somebody who doesn’t look like us or doesn’t pray like us. Our countries are stronger, and we are more secure and more successful when we welcome and integrate people of all backgrounds and faith, and make them feel as one.”
As I have said many times, we understand that Hungary has an obligation to protect and defend its borders, both to its people and as a member of the Schengen zone. But we must resist the effort to conflate the plight of those fleeing violence and persecution with those few who seek to unleash wider terrorist violence – as we saw in Paris, Brussels, and Ankara. Our commitment to the rule of law compels us to address both. We must do both. That is why the United States continues to support the efforts of the EU toward a common, comprehensive solution.
The world’s most vulnerable people—those fleeing ISIL, the Syrian civil war, and other conflict areas—must be protected. When we ignore the rule of law and the efforts of the EU to reach a common solution on migration, we fail to acknowledge the facts on the ground. We fail to stand up for our convictions and principles. We fail to speak to our gifts at meeting a crisis with strength, stability, and compassion. We fail to rise beyond fear.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned the cancer of corruption. Allowing everyone, such as refugees, access to the law has an obvious counterpoint: making sure our own citizens have that same right. As I have said in my public remarks many times, it turns out that corruption – that most outrageous defiance of the rule of law – is more dangerous than we thought. Corruption not only hurts economic growth, it alienates and angers citizens. Business owners can’t compete when the rules favor a select few with strong ties to a government. Citizens feel betrayed when their taxes are being used to line the pockets of public servants, elected officials, and their family members, instead of providing the services and security that citizens pay for and require from the state.
Corruption stalls growth, stifles innovation and investment, denies people their dignity, and can undermine national security. In some parts of the world, corruption is so pervasive, it creates an environment ripe for civil unrest, resistance to the government, and even violent extremism.
We are all harmed by corruption. It is a world-wide problem. And we are able to count up the damages. The European Commission estimates that corruption costs the EU economy over $170 billion a year, more than one percent of the EU gross domestic product. Corruption adds up to 10% to the cost of doing business worldwide. Corruption in Hungary is a concern, quite clearly a serious concern of average Hungarians, as public polls consistently show. Corruption knows no borders. It is a global problem.
Wherever systemic corruption has effectively undermined fair governance, the rule of law weakens. To restore public confidence in the rule of law and show that the playing field is level, governments need to make and abide by laws that are clear and transparent, and permit citizens access to information that affects them. Governments need to allow citizens to see where their money is spent. Governments also need to hold corrupt officials accountable, and to publicize those prosecutions: the names, the crimes, the indictments, the dollar amounts seized, and the convictions and penalties. We all need to see that there is a consequence for breaking the law. That’s what the FBI does.
As we have seen elsewhere in Europe and other regions of the world, when companies, and governments, are run on corrupt principles, they start to resemble organized crime. Drug cartels and terrorists rely on corruption and bribes to convince police officers to turn the other way at checkpoints, and convince customs officials to permit suspect cargo—and even people—to cross borders. Corrupt companies force consumers to pay more for goods because the cost of bribes is factored in. Corrupt governments sequester public funds for personal benefit — funds that could be used to grow an economy and improve the lives of ordinary citizens. When governments make public procurement decisions through favoritism instead of merit, the best companies will often just stay home, depriving the economy and its citizens of the best solutions.
We all lose.
As I said, the rule of law does not guarantee there will be no corruption – only that there will be consequences.
I’ll conclude with some comments made by John Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. As he told a group of law students in Ukraine recently, the rule of law is fundamental to the success of any modern, democratic nation. All people in a society, citizens and noncitizens, must know that they have access to public justice when they believe they have been harmed. People suspected of crimes must believe that a system of laws is in place that ensures transparent and fair treatment. Businesses must know that if their contracts are not honored, there is a real possibility of redress. None of these elements can be fully achieved without the rule of law. If people perceive that they have unequal access to the courts or see selective prosecutions, they will conclude that the judicial system is unfair and politicized, and this will erode their faith in the institutions whose primary function is to guarantee their rights. Ambassador Tefft concludes that an erosion of such guarantees has an adverse impact on the willingness of society as a whole to respect the law and to act in accordance with the established rules.
It’s our shared work in the transatlantic community to ensure that in every case, for every person, we not only have laws to frame our responses to these challenges I have discussed, but that we put these laws in practice equally.
Thank you very much.