Thank you, Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon, for those kind words – and thank you all for such a warm welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here in Auckland today. And I’d particularly like to thank our hosts at the University of Auckland for providing a forum for this important discussion – and for bringing together such a distinguished group. It’s great to be among so many students, faculty members, and current and future leaders of New Zealand’s legal community.
As one of this country’s leading universities, and one of the world’s preeminent centers of higher education, this institution has served as a training ground for generations of students who have gone on to shape every segment of Kiwi society; who have positively impacted countless industries – and individuals – around the world; and who have been instrumental in writing every chapter of the rich history of this island nation. Of course, despite this university’s well-deserved reputation as a place of academic rigor, and a meeting ground where issues of consequence are discussed and addressed – as your motto states, “by natural ability and hard work” – the University of Auckland first arose from humble beginnings.
When it was formally opened – 130 years ago this month – its population totaled less than a hundred, including just 4 teachers and 95 students. Its facilities consisted of an old courthouse and a disused jail. And its most popular programs helped to train teachers and law clerks, whose efforts – to expand educational opportunities and strengthen New Zealand’s legal system – undoubtedly had a profound impact on generations of Kiwis that followed in their footsteps.
Now, there’s no question that you’ve come a long way since those days. But I’m pleased to note that your noble mission – and ambitious vision for the future – remain very much the same. And that’s why, as we gather this afternoon – to confront current challenges, achieve common goals, and honor the values that have always joined our nations together – I can think of no better place to reaffirm the spirit of optimism that once drove your founders to assemble in an old courthouse, confident that their students would someday change the world – and then set out to make that dream a reality.
It’s a similar spirit that brings me to New Zealand this week, to meet with Attorney General Finlayson and our counterparts from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. For the United States, and for our Quintet allies, these meetings present an important chance to exchange ideas and share expertise; to advance the principles of peace, security, and equal justice that form the common foundation for our respective legal systems; and to explore strategies for working together – to address both domestic and international challenges – in order to build the brighter, safer future that all of our citizens deserve.
Although we gather in a time of unprecedented difficulty – at a moment of true consequence – I believe we can all be proud of what our nations have achieved in recent years. By collaborating closely – in common cause, in good faith, and with mutual respect – we’ve addressed a host of transnational issues. From combating cybercrime, terrorism, and human trafficking, to fighting corruption and protecting our citizens from exploitation, abuse, and violence – together, we’ve made significant progress on a variety of fronts. And this week, we’re sharing best practices for protecting some of the most vulnerable members of society – and prosecuting those who commit acts of sexual violence against women and children. Together, we will examine how we can improve domestic investigations and prosecutions of these serious crimes, as well as how we can increase our joint response to transnational sexual violence – including in the contexts of human trafficking, online child pornography, and armed conflicts.
As we look toward the future of this work, I’m confident that we’ll be able to continue building on the record of achievement that’s been established – so long as we remain committed to working together. That’s why I’m so grateful for this opportunity to discuss just a few of our priorities with you today. And it’s why I’d like to begin with a shared challenge that demands international coordination, robust action, and constant vigilance: our ongoing efforts to combat terrorism and related security threats.
From the Quintet’s inception, working together to respond to terrorism has been one of our central themes. The importance of this work was brought into sharp focus just last month, in the most shocking and tragic of ways – when a deadly terrorist attack in the United States, along the route of the Boston Marathon, left three innocent people dead and hundreds badly injured. In the days that followed this heinous act – thanks to the valor of state and local police, the dedication of federal law enforcement and intelligence officials, and the vigilance of members of the public – those suspected of carrying out this terrorist act were identified. One person has been brought into custody and charged in a federal civilian court with using a weapon of mass destruction. And three others have been arrested in connection with this investigation.
Now, this matter remains open – and my colleagues and I are determined to hold accountable, to the fullest extent of the law, all who are found to bear responsibility for this attack. We will be resolute in our efforts to seek justice on behalf of the civilians and brave law enforcement officers who were killed or injured, and to bring help and healing to those who lost friends or loved ones. And we will continue to rely on the support, assistance, and critical intelligence and information-sharing capabilities of our Quintet allies as we advance this and other investigations – and strengthen our broader national security and anti-terrorism efforts.
Over the last four years, I’m proud to report that my colleagues and I have obtained considerable results in this regard. We have uncovered – and prevented – multiple plots by foreign terrorist groups as well as homegrown extremists. Alongside essential partners like the members of the Quintet, we’ve bolstered information sharing in a manner that’s consistent with the rule of law and with our most sacred values. We’ve brought cases – and secured convictions – against scores of dangerous terrorists. And, together, we have taken significant steps to fulfill our mutual obligation to protect and improve the lives of our citizens. The Quintet has been an important mechanism for advancing our joint efforts in this regard.
But all of this is only the beginning. Our governments have long recognized that regional and national problems invariably demand international solutions. Particularly in recent years, we’ve also found that transnational cooperation is frequently just as important when it comes to addressing domestic challenges. That’s another reason why we’ve come together this week to engage with – and learn from – one another, and to reinforce the ideals of fairness, tolerance, and inclusion that form the foundations of our legal systems and lie at the heart of our shared history.
This history, and these ideals, are on full display here at the University of Auckland, where tomorrow’s leaders are learning to grapple with the challenges – and thorny legal questions – that we’ll undoubtedly face together in the years ahead. Every day, you’re acquiring the skills and knowledge you’ll soon need to take up positions of responsibility in all sectors of society – not only here in New Zealand, but around the world. No matter how you choose to put this training to work – whether you build a career in business, science, politics, or the law; whether you envision a future defending the accused, bringing criminals to justice, ruling from the bench, leading a corporation, working for an NGO, or charting some other path altogether your own – each of you will soon be charged with upholding these principles in your own lives, and continuing the progress that this University’s founders set in motion 130 years ago. And all of you will be called upon – in a variety of ways – to help honor and preserve the values that our nations have always shared.
In the United States, my colleagues and I are working hard to live out these values – and to instill them in a new generation of American leaders – by fighting to protect the safety, and the sacred civil rights, to which of every member of society is entitled. We’re firmly committed to preserving the principles of equality, opportunity, and justice – from America’s housing and lending markets, to our schools and boardrooms, military bases, immigrant communities, border areas, and voting booths. And we’re striving to uphold the rights of every citizen – regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identity, economic means, social status, or sexual orientation.
In many ways, no single right is more fundamental to our democratic values than the right of every eligible citizen to participate in the act of self-governance – by casting a ballot. The U.S. Department of Justice is working diligently to safeguard this right by vigorously enforcing key voting protections in order to prevent discriminatory changes to elections systems. We’re working closely with elected leaders across America to make more fair – and to modernize – our voting systems; to expand access and participation in the electoral process; and to prevent and punish fraudulent voting practices – however rare they may be.
Beyond this work, we’re moving – both fairly and aggressively – to promote the highest standards of integrity, independence, and transparency in the enforcement of all civil rights protections. We’re combating exploitation, discrimination, intimidation, and bias-motivated violence. And we’re taking significant measures to address repugnant practices like human trafficking – and to prevent the gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence that afflicts too many communities across the United States, and too often decimates the lives of our most vulnerable citizens: our children.
Last December, a horrific mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults. It shocked our entire nation, and captured headlines around the world. Just days later, I traveled to the school where these unspeakable acts took place. I walked the halls, saw the blood stains, and met with first responders and crime scene investigators. When those brave men and women asked me, with tears in their eyes, to do everything in my power to prevent such a thing from happening again, I told them I would not rest until we had secured the changes our citizens need – and kept the promise that we’ve made to all Americans whose lives have been shattered by gun violence.
For me, for President Obama, and for our colleagues throughout the Administration – responding to this senseless violence, and working to prevent future tragedies, constitutes a top priority. We remain determined to achieve common-sense changes to reduce gun-related crimes, to keep deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands, and to make America’s neighborhoods and schools more secure. More broadly, we’re also seeking ways to improve America’s criminal justice system as a whole – and to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency, and fairness at every level. We’re leading historic efforts to expand vital legal services for those who cannot afford them – and to ensure that quality legal representation is available, affordable, and accessible to everyone, regardless of status or income. We’re tackling criminal justice challenges that are common to countries around the world – by exploring strategies to address sentencing disparities; to tear down barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from rejoining their communities; to consider potential reforms of sentencing policies in order to afford more flexibility to judges; and to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter, but also to rehabilitate – not simply to warehouse and to forget.
Above all – throughout the Justice Department I’m honored to lead, and across the American government in which I’m privileged to serve – we’re working to safeguard the rights of every individual, to stand up for the rule of law, to protect our citizens, and to advance the cause of justice. Although our concerns, and our approaches, may differ at times from the precise challenges that all of you are called to contend with – as leaders and future leaders here in New Zealand – I know our priorities and values will always be the same. And our values – our common values – must always be our guides. Our joint commitment, and the bonds of friendship that unite us, are stronger than ever before. And that’s why – as I look around this crowd – I can’t help but feel confident in our ability to build upon the work that’s underway in both our countries; to continue the progress that the Quintet has convened to carry forward; and to extend the tradition of excellence that has always defined this University – and that must continue to drive our ongoing pursuit of justice – in New Zealand, in the United States, and around the world.
In this work, I am grateful for your leadership – and partnership. I know I speak for all of my colleagues and counterparts when I say we are proud of you. We are eager to see what your generation will achieve – and where you will lead us – in the critical days ahead. We are optimistic about the future you will surely help to build. With the gifts you have been given, with the training you will receive at this wonderful institution, comes a profound responsibility that you must feel, now and always. A responsibility to make the world better, more fair and more accepting. You will have that power and a unique 21st century opportunity to make this so. Use it wisely and for the betterment of our world. You are the best and the brightest – I am counting on you all.
Note: Attorney General Holder delivered these remarks on May 6, 2013, 10:30 p.m. EDT / May 7, 2013, 2:30 p.m. NZST.