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Transforming Partnerships Across Asia and the Pacific To Combat Corruption and Ensure Ethical Conduct: Open Government, Clean Trade, and Integrity in Markets and Supply Chains

I am honored to have been invited to New Delhi to attend the 16th Steering Committee Meeting of the ADB/OECD Anticorruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific and to present this morning the work program in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on combating corruption, especially in my capacity as the 2011 Chair of the APEC Anticorruption and Transparency (ACT) Experts’ Working Group.

I would like to thank the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Government of India for their invitation and warm hospitality, and I hope that together we can chart a vibrant partnership between APEC and your initiative – and among our respective membership – to promote greater integrity and to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption and bribery across Asia and the Pacific.

Before outlining the work of the United States as host of APEC in 2011 and our ACT anti-corruption initiatives and capacity-building programs – including priorities that we are advancing this year as we march towards the APEC Leaders Week and Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 8-13, 2011 – I want to say what a privilege it is for me personally to return as a participant in your Steering Committee meetings. I recall fondly being part of the Advisory Group at the first meeting in Japan in 2001 and the meeting in Malaysia in 2003.

Over the years, I have met many good friends and am excited to meet new friends here this week and to explore continued synergies and collaborations that strengthen regional cooperation via collective action to combat corruption. It is also good to see some of my APEC ACT colleagues here at these meetings, including past and future ACT chairs: Korea (2005), Vietnam (2006), Australia (2007), Singapore (2009), Japan (2010), and Indonesia (2013). I would also like to give a special thanks to the Government of Thailand and my very good friend Professor Pakdee Pothisiri, Commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). It was because of Thailand’s leadership in 2003 that the APEC Leaders agreed to make the fight against corruption a priority, a commitment that led to the creation of the ACT and the Santiago Commitment in 2004.

APEC 2011: Economic Growth, Expansion of Trade and Investment, and Clean Markets

APEC is the premier Asia-Pacific economic forum through which 21 economies have united to build a dynamic and harmonious Asia-Pacific community by championing free and open trade and investment, promoting and accelerating regional economic integration, encouraging economic and technical cooperation, enhancing human security, and facilitating a favorable and sustainable business environment.

The 21 APEC economies are as follows: Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People’s Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; and Viet Nam. Twelve of our APEC members are also active in your initiative.

APEC’s 21 member economies today account for 55 percent of global GDP, 43 percent of world trade, and comprise a market of 2.7 billion consumers.

For the United States, APEC accounts for 58 percent of U.S. goods/exports, and seven of our top trade partners are in APEC. Last year alone, U.S. exports to APEC economies grew much faster than exports to the rest of the world. Due to the dynamism of APEC markets, a 5 percent increase in exports to APEC economies would add hundreds of thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy.

So as we embark on our collaboration with the ADB/OECD anticorruption initiative and other international partners to achieve shared prosperity and economic regional partnerships, we must ensure that we similarly develop a shared framework based on not only reasonable, rules-based approaches but also on open, free, transparent, and fair principles. We believe that such a regional architecture would benefit developed and developing economies alike by transforming and expanding markets, encouraging innovation, and ensuring cleaner forms of public and private governance for markets across the Asia Pacific region.

As the host of APEC in 2011, the United States is focusing on three priority themes for this year, reflecting many of the challenges and opportunities facing public and private sectors across the Asia Pacific region:

Strengthening regional economic integration and expanding trade;

Promoting inclusive, sustainable, green growth; and

Advancing regulatory convergence and cooperation. 

With these priorities in mind, I would like to raise three questions for consideration: First, why are transparency and effective anti-corruption measures critical to our future? Second, why are they indispensable tools for long-term, sustainable growth and regional prosperity? And finally how can we partner to advance our mutually-shared agenda? I hope that today’s discussion will help us leverage our energies and harness our talents and capacities to achieve cleaner trade and more open governments. 

Ensuring Greater Integrity in APEC Economies, Markets, and Supply Chains

Let me start with a well-known truism: Governments are most effective in promoting economic competitiveness, growth, and investment when their communities and its people have confidence in the stability and soundness of its institutions. Governments can faithfully and judiciously invest the public’s trust by adopting effective anticorruption policies that put accountability front and center, demonstrating to their people that they are working for their communities with the highest levels of integrity. 

At the United Nations General Assembly meetings last week, the United States and other members of the Open Government Partnership acknowledged “that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government . . . and are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.” Participating governments also agreed to accept responsibility for seizing this moment in time “to strengthen [their] commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.”

Through the Open Government Dialogue, India and the United States are working together to create “Data.gov-in-a-Box,” a joint, open source, e-governance application. It will be available for implementation by countries globally, encouraging governments around the world to develop open-data sites that promote transparency, improve citizen engagement, and engage application developers in continuously improving these efforts. 

As ACT Chair, I can report to you that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are working together with our APEC partners, and globally, to make anticorruption a priority. In remarks made at the OECD Session on Development and Gender this past May, Secretary Clinton observed that corruption, lack of transparency, and poorly functioning governance systems “not only deprive government of revenues; they inflict a quieter and in some ways an even more dangerous cost as well, because they corrode citizens’ trust in each other and in their government. And when those bonds of trust crumble, it becomes much more difficult for communities and countries to make progress.”

In APEC, we are addressing corruption by sharing our good governance practices and experiences with each other, including by exchanging information on our respective laws, what we do to publicize our enforcement efforts, and what our respective business communities are doing to ensure that they have effective compliance programs to prevent and detect corruption and bribery. Moreover, we are also investing in a broad array of capacity-building programs that help sharpen the capabilities of the APEC anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement communities to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption.

Reducing Illicit Arbitrage Opportunities for Cleaner Markets and Supply Chains

In November 2010, in Yokohama, Japan, APEC Leaders and Ministers agreed to leverage collective action to combat corruption and illicit trade by promoting clean government, strengthening relevant judicial, regulatory, and law enforcement systems, and enhancing regular reporting of our efforts to implement anticorruption commitments to build communities of integrity.

‪We can appreciate why Leaders remain focused on good governance and transparency.

Corruption and bribery are not only barriers to economic growth, trade and investment, and market integrity, but also weaken the entrepreneurial spirit that nurtures innovation, openness, and competiveness.

Corrupt practices also corrode the pillars of free and accountable societies, especially at a time when our citizens are demanding more of our governments and expect to be governed with the highest levels of integrity.

By leading by example, APEC is demonstrating that ethical behavior among public officials can anchor the trust and confidence of the public and markets alike.

As Secretary Clinton emphasized at the 2011 APEC SOM I meetings in Washington, DC, as our communities demand greater accountability, transparency and participatory governance, we must deliver.

And we are. I have just returned from San Francisco where the APEC ACT discussed a robust plan of action for combating corruption in APEC economies as part of our 5-year strategy and discussed ways to advance our 2011 work program under the following three guiding principles: 1) combat corruption and illicit enrichment for more clean and open governments; 2) combat bribery through public-private partnerships that anchor market integrity; and 3) combat corruption and illicit trade to ensure greater supply chain integrity.

On the first guiding principle, through collective action, we are contributing to influence positively APEC’s open and transparent framework, including through the Santiago Commitment and Course of Action to Fight Corruption and Ensure Transparency, the APEC Code of Conduct for Business, the Conduct Principles for Public Officials, and the Complementary Anti-Corruption Principles for the Public and Private Sectors, as well as the development this year of principles to strengthen financial/asset disclosure systems that encourage officials to perform their duties in accordance with public interest, as opposed to self-interest. These principles, we hope, will also help investigators and prosecutors identify and corroborate illicit enrichment, providing greater accountability and building public trust.

Consistent with the APEC Santiago Commitment, in APEC, we are committing ourselves to implementing the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and undertaking a full review on a wide range of measures, including criminalization, preventive measures, and the recovery of stolen assets.

The ACT also continues to work on denying safe haven to kleptocrats around the world, to bar their illicitly-acquired assets, and to give notice that continued theft from our economies will not be tolerated. Following the money must be an integral part of our strategies to deny criminals and their networks access to entities and mechanisms used to hide and launder illicit criminal proceeds. Working with Peru and China in APEC, for example, we launched a very aggressive initiative to strengthen capacities to combat kleptocracy. In 2006, in Shanghai, the United States and China led APEC efforts to take strong enforcement actions to deny safe haven to corrupt individuals and prevent them from enjoying the proceeds of their illicit activities. The ACT commends Thailand and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and others, for leading ACT capacity-building efforts in recent years to combat money laundering and help track the criminal proceeds of kleptocrats and illicit networks alike. Similarly, we applaud Indonesia for being co-Chair of the G20 Anticorruption Working Group, and for serving next year as a Vice Chair in the ACT (and host of APEC in 2013).

Depriving illicit networks of their profits and funding is one of the most effective ways to deter them. This requires a holistic, comprehensive anti-money laundering regime with the ability to trace, freeze, and seize assets related to illicit financial flows, while addressing both formal and informal financial networks.

Second, in the ACT, we are also taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to combat corruption and illicit trade to ensure integrity in global markets and supply chains and to sustain our shared prosperity. We must confront criminal entrepreneurs and illicit market actors that navigate between licit and illicit worlds, tainting supply chains and compromising the integrity of our markets and institutions. Moreover, tainted supply chains, compromised markets, and the corruption that accompanies illicit trade also hurt our legitimate businesses; diminish brand identities, reputations, and returns on research and innovation; and increase operating costs and investment risks to all market investors.

Working together in APEC, we are ramping up efforts to investigate and prosecute the illicit actors who produce and sell harmful counterfeits such as counterfeit medicines, and we are simultaneously strengthening the integrity of our supply chains, as well as our global financial system.

At the APEC September 2011 SOM 3 meetings in San Francisco, investigators, prosecutors, and regulators, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) including Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) , the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and others, coordinated with their APEC counterparts by organizing an APEC workshop on Investigating and Prosecuting Corruption and Illicit Trade: Stemming the Flows of Counterfeits and Dismantling Illicit Networks to impart best practices, law enforcement techniques, share case studies, and explore possible tools that can equip APEC economies to mitigate vulnerabilities, dismantle transnational illicit networks, and strengthen integrity in supply chains.

In the next month, we will submit to APEC Senior Officials the ACT’s recommendations to launch across APEC a public-private partnership to dismantle illicit networks at every link in tainted supply chains and prosecute criminal entrepreneurs who arbitrage weak and corrupt law enforcement systems and exploit internal border controls for illicit gain and enrichment.

Breaking the corruptive power of transnational illicit networks globally is a key objective for the United States. On July 25, 2011, the White House released the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. We will work with international partners to attack the financial underpinnings of transnational criminal organizations; strip them of their illicit wealth; and sever their access to the financial system. In targeting illicit entrepreneurs and illicit networks that pose grave threats to our citizens’ safety—including those that sell and distribute substandard, tainted, and harmful counterfeits—we will also expose criminal activities hidden behind legitimate fronts and protect strategic markets, as well as the integrity of the global financial system. The United States will also work with other committed partners to disrupt crime-terror networks all around the world including in South Asia.

Combating Bribery and Forging Public-Private Partnerships on Market Integrity

Finally, when both public and private sectors work together, we can create a culture of integrity that has a lasting impact. The private sector can lead in ensuring that corruption does not corrode the foundations of an efficient and transparent market system, which is fundamental to economic security, sustainability, and prosperity for all economies. We can create a better future by uniting in our support of accountability and good governance and against corruption. Such action has been evidenced in recent years in India, where the Global Corporate Governance Forum has worked in partnership with the regulator, the National Institute for Securities Markets, and one of the country’s leading business associations, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), to raise understanding and awareness of the importance and modalities of good corporate governance. The regulator brings to this exercise the imprimatur of the government, while CII lends the weight of prominent Indian industrial concerns, creating a formidable alliance.

As the OECD and World Bank Group – key APEC partners – have underscored as part of their global corporate governance forum, “encouraging high quality corporate governance practices as a linked element of anti-corruption measures, are the twin pillars of developing fair and efficient markets. Both are relevant to broader efforts to promote sustainable economic development and democracy. They depend upon implementation by the private sector, with the active support of civil society and stakeholders, within a framework of law and regulation provided for by government. Achieving effective measures therefore requires the active partnership of all sides” in a full practical engagement for reform, modernization, and good governance.

Through our continued cooperation with the private sector, we are leveling the playing field across APEC economies. Moreover, in working with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), and other partners, we are ushering in a new era of cooperation between the public and private sector that will help forge a more connected, innovative, and dynamic Asia Pacific region. Combating corruption, achieving sustainable development and dismantling illicit markets and networks also requires collective action and a shared responsibility among APEC partners, as well as close coordination with relevant regional and international organizations that have important expertise and capacities to help improve the overall governance climate in the Asia-Pacific region.

The ACT has a strong record of achievement of strengthening cooperation with other international and regional organizations. We have leveraged new and exciting collaborative platforms with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), OECD, ASEAN, G20, INTERPOL, and the International Anticorruption Academy (IACA), as well as with civil society groups such as Transparency International.

I have already mentioned the good work that many of our APEC ACT colleagues are doing in combating corruption including, for example, Australia, Chile, China, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Next year, Russia will host APEC and we look forward to continue to advance our public-private partnerships to combat corruption and bribery especially tied closely to the expansion of our investment and trade agenda. In addition we would like to congratulate Russia for joining the OECD Working Group on Bribery; we look forward to its ratification of the anti-bribery convention itself. The rigorous peer review that is at the heart of the Working Group’s success will help Russia to intensify its efforts against foreign bribery. The fact that India, China and Indonesia all are participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery as observers is another positive step and we hope that they will consider full membership in future.

The Way Forward: Greater Integrity in Economies, Markets, and Supply Chains ‪Across Asia and the Pacific

In closing, it is great to be meeting with you here in India, and I applaud the diversity of your ADB/OECD Steering Group membership.

Our institutions share many common goals. Similar to APEC’s approach, you are leveraging alliances with communities and civil society groups to mobilize public support to address corruption. I have also taken note of your recent efforts to promote more active judiciaries, parliamentarians, and your ideas on access to information tools and the promotion of social anticorruption and media campaigns that can help to support resiliency and stability and to build a culture of integrity. As we nurture the network of government and business leaders that support innovation in the vibrant sectors of tomorrow – such as computer and high technology, biomedical, energy and space – these issues become even more important to government officials and entrepreneurs to create the right governance conditions for new markets and investment frontiers to thrive across our regions.

India’s adoption of anticorruption commitments as part of the G20 and its ratification of UNCAC send an important signal to the public and to businesses that tackling corruption is a high priority. An even more important step is to implement those commitments, to put them into practice, whether they are about prevention or transparency or law enforcement. Our experience is that creating momentum for reform, for implementation of these kinds of commitments, requires government leadership as well as support and expertise and oversight from civil society and the private sector. A partnership between government and the public is essential. Partnerships among countries can also help by sharing experiences among peers. That is one hallmark of APEC ACT, and one important value added of the ADB/OECD initiative. The United States is pleased to partner with other economies through these frameworks and bilaterally.

Thank you for the opportunity to outline the APEC ACT’s work program. I hope we can develop pragmatic and collaborative joint workshops, from time to time, that will enhance our commitment to combat corruption and illicit trade and strengthen integrity across our respective economies.

Thank you.

 


Secretary Clinton’s Remarks on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century

In this speech to students and faculty at Georgetown University, Secretary Clinton set out the Obama Administration’s vision for human rights, democracy, and development, and described how they work together and with broader U.S. foreign policy.  The address focused on four main components of the Administration’s human rights policy.  First, the United States will encourage the development and enforcement of universal standards.  To that end, the Secretary noted the steps the United States has taken to hold ourselves accountable, including prohibiting torture, reporting on human trafficking, and participating in the Universal Periodic Review.  Second, the United States will be “pragmatic and agile” when promoting and protecting human rights, providing a tailored approach in bilateral and multilateral engagement.  In addition, the United States will work with citizens and their communities to enact change.  These activities include encouraging, supporting and protecting grassroots workers and other members of civil society, as well as using technology to reach out to individuals.  Finally, the Secretary emphasized the broad focus that the Administration is taking regarding human rights.  The U.S. government will advocate for human rights all over the world, including in places with repressive and authoritarian regimes. Read the full speech here.

 


President Obama’s 2010 Speech to the United Nations General Assembly

President Obama’s second speech to the UN General Assembly, a year to the day after his first address as president, focused on human rights and democracy.  In proposing a long-term agenda for the United Nations, the President recalled the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”  He articulated the need to enforce universal values even in times of political and economic crisis and trumpeted the power of democracy, broadly defined as a system of government that is open and accountable to its citizens.  President Obama also emphasized the importance of civil society and committed to guaranteeing its expansion “within and across borders.” Read the full speech here.

 


President Obama’s Remarks on National Security

In this address at the National Archives, President Obama outlined his Administration’s approach to national security.  The President emphasized that holding true to America’s fundamental values is essential to national security and disputed the notion that we can sacrifice the Constitution in times of national emergency.  The President discussed the steps the Administration has taken to craft a national security policy that is responsive to modern threats without sacrificing traditional values.  These steps include ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, taking steps to close Guantanamo, and establishing a comprehensive legal framework to process the Guantanamo detainees.  The President also promised to adhere to a system of transparency and accountability in his national security policy, communicating with the public, and establishing oversight by the other branches of government. Read the full remarks here.

 


President Obama’s Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, my fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a great honor to address this Assembly for the second time, nearly two years after my election as President of the United States.

We know this is no ordinary time for our people.  Each of us comes here with our own problems and priorities.  But there are also challenges that we share in common as leaders and as nations.

We meet within an institution built from the rubble of war, designed to unite the world in pursuit of peace.  And we meet within a city that for centuries has welcomed people from across the globe, demonstrating that individuals of every color, faith and station can come together to pursue opportunity, build a community, and live with the blessing of human liberty.

Outside the doors of this hall, the blocks and neighborhoods of this great city tell the story of a difficult decade.  Nine years ago, the destruction of the World Trade Center signaled a threat that respected no boundary of dignity or decency.  Two years ago this month, a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American families on Main Street.  These separate challenges have affected people around the globe.  Men and women and children have been murdered by extremists from Casablanca to London; from Jalalabad to Jakarta.  The global economy suffered an enormous blow during the financial crisis, crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent.  Underneath these challenges to our security and prosperity lie deeper fears:  that ancient hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant; that a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow slipped beyond our control.

These are some of the challenges that my administration has confronted since we came into office.  And today, I’d like to talk to you about what we’ve done over the last 20 months to meet these challenges; what our responsibility is to pursue peace in the Middle East; and what kind of world we are trying to build in this 21st century.

Let me begin with what we have done.  I have had no greater focus as President than rescuing our economy from potential catastrophe.  And in an age when prosperity is shared, we could not do this alone.  So America has joined with nations around the world to spur growth, and the renewed demand that could restart job creation.

We are reforming our system of global finance, beginning with Wall Street reform here at home, so that a crisis like this never happens again.  And we made the G20 the focal point for international coordination, because in a world where prosperity is more diffuse, we must broaden our circle of cooperation to include emerging economies — economies from every corner of the globe.

There is much to show for our efforts, even as there is much work to be done.  The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression, and is growing once more.  We have resisted protectionism, and are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce among nations.  But we cannot — and will not — rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, not only for all Americans, but for peoples around the globe.

As for our common security, America is waging a more effective fight against al Qaeda, while winding down the war in Iraq.  Since I took office, the United States has removed nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq.  We have done so responsibly, as Iraqis have transitioned to lead responsibility for the security of their country.

We are now focused on building a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while keeping our commitment to remove the rest of our troops by the end of next year.

While drawing down in Iraq, we have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven.  In Afghanistan, the United States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the Taliban’s momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan’s government and security forces, so that a transition to Afghan responsibility can begin next July.  And from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach — one that strengthens our partners and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.

As we pursue the world’s most dangerous extremists, we’re also denying them the world’s most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, 47 nations embraced a work-plan to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years.  We have joined with Russia to sign the most comprehensive arms control treaty in decades.  We have reduced the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy.  And here, at the United Nations, we came together to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community.  I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences.  Through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more:  The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it.  But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

As we combat the spread of deadly weapons, we’re also confronting the specter of climate change.  After making historic investments in clean energy and efficiency at home, we helped forge an accord in Copenhagen that — for the first time — commits all major economies to reduce their emissions.  We are keenly aware this is just a first step.  And going forward, we will support a process in which all major economies meet our responsibilities to protect the planet while unleashing the power of clean energy to serve as an engine of growth and development.

America has also embraced unique responsibilities with come — that come with our power.  Since the rains came and the floodwaters rose in Pakistan, we have pledged our assistance, and we should all support the Pakistani people as they recover and rebuild.  And when the earth shook and Haiti was devastated by loss, we joined a coalition of nations in response.  Today, we honor those from the U.N. family who lost their lives in the earthquake, and commit ourselves to stand with the people of Haiti until they can stand on their own two feet.

Amidst this upheaval, we have also been persistent in our pursuit of peace.  Last year, I pledged my best efforts to support the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors.  We have travelled a winding road over the last 12 months, with few peaks and many valleys.  But this month, I am pleased that we have pursued direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington, Sharm el Sheikh and Jerusalem.

Now I recognize many are pessimistic about this process.  The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace.  Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs and with gunfire.  Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.

I hear those voices of skepticism.  But I ask you to consider the alternative.  If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state.  Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence.  The hard realities of demography will take hold.  More blood will be shed.  This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity. 

I refuse to accept that future.  And we all have a choice to make.  Each of us must choose the path of peace.  Of course, that responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history.  Earlier this month at the White House, I was struck by the words of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “I came here today to find a historic compromise that will enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity.”  And President Abbas said, “We will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause.”

These words must now be followed by action and I believe that both leaders have the courage to do so.  But the road that they have to travel is exceedingly difficult, which is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians — and the world — to rally behind the goal that these leaders now share.  We know that there will be tests along the way and that one test is fast approaching.  Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground and improved the atmosphere for talks. 

And our position on this issue is well known.  We believe that the moratorium should be extended.  We also believe that talks should press on until completed.  Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle.  Now is the time to build the trust — and provide the time — for substantial progress to be made.  Now is the time for this opportunity to be seized, so that it does not slip away.

Now, peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well.  Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine — one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity.  And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means — including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.

I know many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians.  But these pledges of friendship must now be supported by deeds.  Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps towards the normalization that it promises Israel. 

And those who speak on behalf of Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and in doing so help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. 

Those who long to see an independent Palestine must also stop trying to tear down Israel.  After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land.  After 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate.

Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.  And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people.  The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance — it’s injustice.  And make no mistake:  The courage of a man like President Abbas, who stands up for his people in front of the world under very difficult circumstances, is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.

The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution.  And we can come back here next year, as we have for the last 60 years, and make long speeches about it.  We can read familiar lists of grievances.  We can table the same resolutions.  We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate.  And we can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life.  We can do that. 

Or, we can say that this time will be different — that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.  This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.

This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred.  This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves.  If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.  (Applause.)

It is our destiny to bear the burdens of the challenges that I’ve addressed — recession and war and conflict.  And there is always a sense of urgency — even emergency — that drives most of our foreign policies.  Indeed, after millennia marked by wars, this very institution reflects the desire of human beings to create a forum to deal with emergencies that will inevitably come.

But even as we confront immediate challenges, we must also summon the foresight to look beyond them, and consider what we are trying to build over the long term?  What is the world that awaits us when today’s battles are brought to an end?  And that is what I would like to talk about with the remainder of my time today.

One of the first actions of this General Assembly was to adopt a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. That Declaration begins by stating that, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”

The idea is a simple one — that freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings.  And for the United States, this is a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.  As Robert Kennedy said, “the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit.”  So we stand up for universal values because it’s the right thing to do.  But we also know from experience that those who defend these values for their people have been our closest friends and allies, while those who have denied those rights — whether terrorist groups or tyrannical governments — have chosen to be our adversaries.

Human rights have never gone unchallenged — not in any of our nations, and not in our world.  Tyranny is still with us — whether it manifests itself in the Taliban killing girls who try to go to school, a North Korean regime that enslaves its own people, or an armed group in Congo-Kinshasa that use rape as a weapon of war.

In times of economic unease, there can also be an anxiety about human rights.  Today, as in past times of economic downturn, some put human rights aside for the promise of short term stability or the false notion that economic growth can come at the expense of freedom.  We see leaders abolishing term limits.  We see crackdowns on civil society.  We see corruption smothering entrepreneurship and good governance.  We see democratic reforms deferred indefinitely.

As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its own people.  Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments.  To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens.  And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred. 

America is working to shape a world that fosters this openness, for the rot of a closed or corrupt economy must never eclipse the energy and innovation of human beings.  All of us want the right to educate our children, to make a decent wage, to care for the sick, and to be carried as far as our dreams and our deeds will take us.  But that depends upon economies that tap the power of our people, including the potential of women and girls.  That means letting entrepreneurs start a business without paying a bribe and governments that support opportunity instead of stealing from their people.  And that means rewarding hard work, instead of reckless risk-taking.

Yesterday, I put forward a new development policy that will pursue these goals, recognizing that dignity is a human right and global development is in our common interest.  America will partner with nations that offer their people a path out of poverty.  And together, we must unleash growth that powers by individuals and emerging markets in all parts of the globe.

There is no reason why Africa should not be an exporter of agriculture, which is why our food security initiative is empowering farmers.  There is no reason why entrepreneurs shouldn’t be able to build new markets in every society, which is why I hosted a summit on entrepreneurship earlier this spring, because the obligation of government is to empower individuals, not to impede them.

The same holds true for civil society.  The arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change and by free media that held the powerful accountable.  We have seen that from the South Africans who stood up to apartheid, to the Poles of Solidarity, to the mothers of the disappeared who spoke out against the Dirty War, to Americans who marched for the rights of all races, including my own.

Civil society is the conscience of our communities and America will always extend our engagement abroad with citizens beyond the halls of government.  And we will call out those who suppress ideas and serve as a voice for those who are voiceless.  We will promote new tools of communication so people are empowered to connect with one another and, in repressive societies, to do so with security.  We will support a free and open Internet, so individuals have the information to make up their own minds.  And it is time to embrace and effectively monitor norms that advance the rights of civil society and guarantee its expansion within and across borders.

Open society supports open government, but it cannot substitute for it.  There is no right more fundamental than the ability to choose your leaders and determine your destiny.  Now, make no mistake:  The ultimate success of democracy in the world won’t come because the United States dictates it; it will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed. 

There is no soil where this notion cannot take root, just as every democracy reflects the uniqueness of a nation.  Later this fall, I will travel to Asia.  And I will visit India, which peacefully threw off colonialism and established a thriving democracy of over a billion people.

I’ll continue to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, which binds together thousands of islands through the glue of representative government and civil society.  I’ll join the G20 meeting on the Korean Peninsula, which provides the world’s clearest contrast between a society that is dynamic and open and free, and one that is imprisoned and closed.  And I will conclude my trip in Japan, an ancient culture that found peace and extraordinary development through democracy.

Each of these countries gives life to democratic principles in their own way.  And even as some governments roll back reform, we also celebrate the courage of a President in Colombia who willingly stepped aside, or the promise of a new constitution in Kenya.

The common thread of progress is the principle that government is accountable to its citizens.  And the diversity in this room makes clear — no one country has all the answers, but all of us must answer to our own people.

In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable.  And now, we must build on that progress.  And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.

This institution can still play an indispensable role in the advance of human rights.  It’s time to welcome the efforts of U.N. Women to protect the rights of women around the globe.  (Applause.)

It’s time for every member state to open its elections to international monitors and increase the U.N. Democracy Fund.  It’s time to reinvigorate U.N. peacekeeping, so that missions have the resources necessary to succeed, and so atrocities like sexual violence are prevented and justice is enforced — because neither dignity nor democracy can thrive without basic security.

And it’s time to make this institution more accountable as well, because the challenges of a new century demand new ways of serving our common interests.

The world that America seeks is not one we can build on our own.  For human rights to reach those who suffer the boot of oppression, we need your voices to speak out.  In particular, I appeal to those nations who emerged from tyranny and inspired the world in the second half of the last century — from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to South America.  Don’t stand idly by, don’t be silent, when dissidents elsewhere are imprisoned and protesters are beaten.  Recall your own history.  Because part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.

That belief will guide America’s leadership in this 21st century.  It is a belief that has seen us through more than two centuries of trial, and it will see us through the challenges we face today — be it war or recession; conflict or division.

So even as we have come through a difficult decade, I stand here before you confident in the future — a future where Iraq is governed by neither tyrant nor a foreign power, and Afghanistan is freed from the turmoil of war; a future where the children of Israel and Palestine can build the peace that was not possible for their parents; a world where the promise of development reaches into the prisons of poverty and disease; a future where the cloud of recession gives way to the light of renewal and the dream of opportunity is available to all.

This future will not be easy to reach.  It will not come without setbacks, nor will it be quickly claimed.  But the founding of the United Nations itself is a testament to human progress.  Remember, in times that were far more trying than our own, our predecessors chose the hope of unity over the ease of division and made a promise to future generations that the dignity and equality of human beings would be our common cause.
     
It falls to us to fulfill that promise.  And though we will be met by dark forces that will test our resolve, Americans have always had cause to believe that we can choose a better history; that we need only to look outside the walls around us.  For through the citizens of every conceivable ancestry who make this city their own, we see living proof that opportunity can be accessed by all, that what unites us as human beings is far greater than what divides us, and that people from every part of this world can live together in peace. 

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

 
 

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