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The Obama Doctrine

In a policy shift that could lead to the international arrest and trial of kleptocrats, the White House last week said it views widespread corruption as a violation of basic human rights and is working to advance that view globally.

According to the administration’s May 2010 National Security Strategy, the U.S. will “promote the recognition that pervasive corruption is a violation of basic human rights and a severe impediment to development and global security.” Although the prior administration linked corruption to global and national security, viewing graft as a human-rights violation is a new position.

The administration said:

Strengthening International Norms Against Corruption: We are working within the broader international system, including the U.N., G-20, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the international financial institutions, to promote the recognition that pervasive corruption is a violation of basic human rights and a severe impediment to development and global security. We will work with governments and civil society organizations to bring greater transparency and accountability to government budgets, expenditures, and the assets of public officials. And we will institutionalize transparent practices in international aid flows, international banking and tax policy, and private sector engagement around natural resources to make it harder for officials to steal and to strengthen the efforts of citizens to hold their governments accountable.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague hasn’t been used against kleptocrats. The Rome Statute that created the court extends to “crimes against humanity” but no one knows if that includes graft. Commentators, academics and activists have been pressing the case that grand corruption should be internationally outlawed. This is the first formal indication that President Obama, who may be frustrated that the FCPA doesn’t reach corrupt foreign officials, could be putting his weight behind the idea as well.

There’s a catch. As of today, the United States isn’t one of the 108 State Parties to the Rome Statute. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. joined the 60 countries that supported the founding of the International Criminal Court. But the Bush administration reversed that policy, citing risks to national sovereignty, and never signed the Rome Statute.

Download the May 2010 National Security Strategy here.

Special thanks to an astute reader in Washington for help with this post.

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1 Comment

  1. The new position of labeling corruption a human rights violation seems to make sense. Allowing countries that are in the nation building process to allow certain corrupt practices to continue is contrary to the overall goal of building a civilized democratic state.

    The twist at the end is interesting and I am interested to know if the Obama administration is pursing becoming a part of the Rome Statute?

    Thank you

    Mike


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