Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Conference for Signing the U.N. Convention Against Corruption
Merida, Mexico
December 9, 2003

(Please Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Thank you for the opportunity to address this conference. By making the fight against corruption a priority for his Administration, President Fox has become a hemispheric and world leader for integrity in government. The United States applauds his efforts and expresses gratitude for the excellent work of the government of Mexico to bring the world community together to Merida for the signing of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Just ten short years ago, corruption was a topic that governments avoided in international discourse. Bribery was generally considered to be a domestic issue. It was simply a part of human nature, a trivial issue, or even promoted as a normal business expense to be deducted from taxes at home. In some nations corruption threatened to, in the words of philosopher and poet Alexander Pope, "deluge all; and spread like a low-born mist, and blot the sun."

The fight against corruption is critical to realizing our shared interests. Corruption undermines the goals of peace-loving and democratic nations. It jeopardizes free markets and sustainable development. It provides sanctuary to the forces of global terror. It facilitates the illicit activities of international and domestic criminals. It saps the legitimacy of democratic governments and can, in its extreme forms, threaten democracy itself.

Worst of all, it is a tax on the poor. Corruption provides benefits to the crooked by channeling money from projects to pockets - from projects like better roads and water supplies to the bank accounts of cronies. It steals from the needy to enrich the wealthy. Corruption must end.

By combating corruption, we restore confidence in democracy and the rule of law. We strengthen the open trade and investment that drive the world economy. We ensure that donor and government resources benefit a wide range of citizens, not only a select few. When these conditions are secured, they combine to create faith in the institutions of a civil society.

Beginning with a series of regional anti-corruption conventions and related initiatives, among the first of which was this hemisphere's 1996 Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the international community has made concerted efforts to address this serious problem. The United States is thankful to have worked alongside other nations in this international movement. In the past six years, working together, we have achieved:

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption we are signing today is a permanent enshrinement of the new global attitude towards corruption. Corruption is now unacceptable in any form, and international cooperation is considered a key element of our respective efforts to combat this scourge.

The product of our negotiations over the past two years will sustain our fight against corruption. It will ensure that corruption is more than merely a passing common interest among nations.

But this document is not enough. It must not become an empty, symbolic gesture. Our governments must translate the words of this convention into effective actions. These deeds will reinforce intergovernmental cooperation and, through domestic efforts to stem corruption, reaffirm our collective goals.

So, Attorney General Macedo, the United States pledges to be a full partner with President Fox and other nations in making the fight against corruption a way of life.

The United States is pleased to be joining the ceremony in Merida. Our collaborative efforts to achieve this milestone may allow us to look back ten years from now and remark, as we do today, on how far we have progressed in just ten short years. In particular, we commend the leadership of Mexico and President Fox.