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15 Nov, 2013

Thai Princess: GDP Growth No Longer Sufficient to Determine Economic Success

Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol

Full text of the Keynote Opening Address by Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, Ambassador of Thailand and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Vienna, on the topic: “Investing in the rule of law, crime prevention and criminal justice for the post-2015 United Nations development agenda”. The Bangkok Dialogue on the Rule of Law, Siam Kempinski Hotel, Bangkok, 15 November 2013

It is a great pleasure to address you on this important occasion. Allow me, first of all, to take the opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Thailand and the Thailand Institute of Justice for organizing the Bangkok Dialogue on the Rule of Law today. I would also like to thank and welcome all the distinguished guests, including Prime Minister Tobgay, Minister Natalegawa, Minister Al Mohannadi and Executive Director Fedotov, for coming to Thailand from around the globe to discuss the importance of investing in the rule of law, justice and security for the post-2015 development agenda.

I am certain that our gathering today will include not only invigorating discussions, but also practical conclusions and recommendations, so as to serve as an essential milestone for moving the international development agenda forward beyond 2015.

Thirteen years ago, one of the largest gatherings of world leaders took place in New York for the Millennium Summit to discuss the role of the United Nations at the turn of the twenty-first century. Then Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, opened the summit by calling on political leaders to work together to overcome challenges like poverty, hunger and preventable diseases once and for all. One hundred and eighty-nine Member States agreed to work together and help the citizens in the world’s poorest countries achieve a better life by the year 2015.

The Millennium Development Goals have helped nations to make great strides in turning that vision into a reality. The High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, highlighted in their Report that there are half a billion fewer people living below the international poverty line; child death rates have fallen by more than 30 percent; and deaths from malaria have been reduced by a quarter. But apparently, more needs to be done to overcome the existing constraints and limitations of the current international development paradigm, particularly due to a considerable drop in development assistance funding.

I strongly believe that development that excludes the rule of law, crime prevention and criminal justice is far from being sustainable. How can we be truly sustainable when inequality continues to create social tensions? when large segments of the population are still barred from accessing justice ? Transnational organized crime, corruption, drug trafficking and conflicts are impeding development efforts around the world. Women and girls continue to be exposed to violence and discrimination. Clearly, gaps in the justice system and an ineffective rule of law are at the heart of the problem.

In the Declaration of the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at National and International Levels adopted in 2012, Heads of State and Government were convinced that the rule of law and development are strongly interrelated and mutually reinforcing, that the advancement of the rule of law is essential for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. As such, it is no longer sufficient to look at GDP growth rates to determine the economic success of a country. A well-functioning justice system, too, is a necessary variable that ensures the effective delivery of public services and equal access to economic opportunities.

A key step to realize that end is the adoption of legal frameworks that emphasize the rights-based approach. We need to ensure that no individual or group is left out and barred from justice. For the poor and marginalized groups in a society, access to justice should be actively promoted and include input on decisions that affect not only their economic well-being, but also the full enjoyment of their civil and political rights. In other words, the legal empowerment of the poor and vulnerable is imperative to create a truly inclusive path forward, as a right to development.

Additionally, we need to look at the justice-drugs-crime trilogy and its impact to development and security. Already, in 2004, the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Perception and Change identified transnational organized crime as one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. The 2011 World Bank Development Report underscored this finding and identified it as a severe impediment to sustainable development.

In Southeast Asia alone, the conservative estimate of illegal financial flows exceeds $90 billion dollars. This massive black market continues to expand and is fueled by the proceeds of transnational organized crime, such as human and drug trafficking alone worth $32 billion dollars. On the global level, only the trade in heroin and cocaine is estimated at over $153 billion dollars.

Corruption is also directly related to transnational organized crime and illegal economic activities. It serves as a severe impediment to sustainable development as it diverts resources away from poverty eradication, the fight against hunger and the delivery of public services. In conflict and post-conflict societies, government institutions are even more prone to corruption, as a weak rule of law, poor socio-economic conditions, political destabilization and the proliferation of small arms and light weaponry, all provide criminal groups with opportunities to operate more freely and effectively.

However, promoting international recognition of the link between crime and development still remains a major challenge. One difficulty is the fact that the MDGs currently make no specific reference to transnational organized crime and justice. Therefore, the assessment of how crime prevention can contribute to the attainment of MDG targets is difficult. But as globalization and regional economic integration continues ever more rapidly, I believe that crime prevention and criminal justice can no longer be addressed in isolation from other global development issues.

In my view, the issue of violence against women is a clear example of why we must mainstream the rule of law in the development agenda. The unfair treatment of women is a problem that cuts across all the boundaries of age, race, culture and geography. Unfortunately, gender-based discrimination and violence – even up to the most extreme form of femicide – are still largely entrenched in various social, cultural and legal traditions. But how can any economy truly achieve its maximum potential when half the population is discriminated against in the labor force, and therefore also more susceptible to violence?

That said the international community must ensure that gender justice is an integral part of the rule of law. Governments need to enhance access to justice for women and respond to their gender-sensitive needs. When I used to work as a prosecutor, I learned first-hand the difficulties women prisoners face. Subsequently, I decided to start a project to enhance their treatment, which led to Thailand spearheading efforts for a set of guidelines adopted by the United Nations on the treatment of women prisoners, now known as the Bangkok Rules, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we look to the post-2015 development agenda, the High Level Panel Report recommends several transformative shifts to achieve sustainable development. First, to leave no one behind is a direct call for ensuring that the poor and vulnerable are able to benefit from economic growth. Second, putting sustainability at the core of development efforts requires international legislation and norms to achieve that goal. Third, transforming economies for inclusive growth and jobs entails providing all citizens with equal access and opportunities. Fourth, the creation of open and accountable institutions helps societies build an immune system against corruption, strengthening good governance while building confidence in society. Fifth, forging a new global partnership enables countries to promote best practices as a collective responsibility.

While the importance of an effective rule of law, including justice and security for all, is highlighted throughout the Report, it is not specifically identified as a cross-cutting issue in its own right. Yet, several of the twelve universal goals in the report are directly linked to the rule of law. For example, Goal 10 seeks to “Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions” and includes the target to provide everyone with a legal identity and the possibility to hold government officials accountable. Goal 11 aims to “Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies”, incorporating targets to reduce violent deaths, ensure access to justice and enhance the capacity of the justice and security sectors.

Thailand is a strong advocate for mainstreaming the rule of law, justice and security in the post-2015 development agenda because we genuinely believe that it is extremely crucial at this point in time. Through our collaborative work with like-minded countries and partners in civil society, these efforts have led the General Assembly to adopt last year the Declaration on the Rule of Law, and more recently a few weeks ago, a new resolution to include the rule of law, crime prevention and criminal justice in the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015.

We are, therefore, at a critical crossroad to realize the future we want, “A Life of Dignity for All”, as so eloquently expressed in the recent Secretary-General report (A/68/202). The latest UNODC Report entitled “Accounting for Security and Justice in the Post-2015 Development Agenda” has presented us for the first time a new innovative way to collect reliable data related to goals, targets and indicators pertaining to the rule of law, justice and security. At the end of the day, however, any effort to mainstream such expert inputs in the post-2015 deliberations process lies in the hands of Member States themselves. This is why I firmly believe we are now facing a unique opportunity to strategically and timely calibrate a new development agenda once and for all.

Apparently, our advocacy work from now until 2015 is parallel to another crucial exercise, that is, the preparations for the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to be hosted by the Government of Qatar in Doha in 2015. Crucial because the Congress is not only the oldest major conference of the United Nations that formulates policy directives on global crime trends and strategies every 5 years, but the overall theme of the 13th Congress seeks to integrate crime prevention and criminal justice in the wider United Nations agenda to address social and economic challenges and to promote the rule of law at national and international levels and public participation. I see these two tracks of deliberations process as mutually reinforcing.

Last but not least, 2015 is also significant for Thailand and its neighboring countries as we will herald the new era of the ASEAN Community. In particular, the ASEAN Political and Security Community will promote cooperation in combating transnational crimes and drug trafficking, strengthening the rule of law and legal infrastructure and post-conflict peace-building. We will need to work on harmonizing laws and regulations on crime prevention and criminal justice, while promoting knowledge and capacity-building in this area. What happens with the rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda will entail implications for our region as well.

In conclusion, I wish to stress that investing in the rule of law, crime prevention and criminal justice is not only essential, but indispensable, to the path of sustainable development. We must recognize that economic prosperity also brings criminal opportunities. Countries that are most susceptible to transnational threats are often the ones that are less equipped to respond to them. Thus, it is a common and shared responsibility of all Member States to turn the vision of an integrated development agenda into a reality. Together, we can build a strong culture of lawfulness so that our future generations can benefit from our endeavor.

Once again, I would like to thank all of you all for coming to Bangkok and I look forward to a very productive and successful conference.

Thank you very much.