Remarks at the International Law Enforcement Academy -- Bangkok

Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Bangkok, Thailand
March 28, 2016

Good morning everyone, and thank you Colonel Aye for the introduction.  

My name is Sarah Sewall, and I serve in the U.S. Department of State as the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

In this role, I lead the Department of State’s efforts to strengthen protections for all people under the rule of law. That is why I am pleased to join you today for the start of this groundbreaking new course at ILEA Bangkok.

I hope everyone realizes that you are now a part of something very special. Back in 1998 when the United States and Thailand first established this Academy, it became the first-ever program to convene law enforcement professionals from across Southeast Asia for training.

At the time, the rationale for this Academy was straightforward: in an era of transnational crime, terrorism, and human trafficking, even the duties of local law enforcement began to take on a global dimension.

To stay ahead of this evolving landscape, law enforcement professionals and institutions needed to constantly learn and adapt. That meant sharing practices across national borders – what’s working and what’s not – and drawing from experiences outside their typical practice back in their home countries and communities.

Over the years, this Academy has trained thousands of officers whose work strengthens security and justice for millions of people across Southeast Asia. And once you finish here, you will join its remarkable network of over 15,000 alumni throughout the region.

One lesson that I hope stays with you, and that I see almost everywhere I’ve visited as Under Secretary, is that even as law enforcement challenges become more global in some respects, the most effective solutions remain local.

Time and again, I’ve seen how strong partnerships between law enforcement and local communities can make communities more resilient to a host of threats.

When people know whom to call, and trust law enforcement to act in their interest, it becomes much harder for bad actors to harm the community – from criminals and drug dealers to violent extremists.

That is why ILEA Bangkok now partners with civil society to teach law enforcement to build more effective community partnerships to tackle challenges like human trafficking and child exploitation. The protection of law enforcement should extend to everyone in the community – especially the most vulnerable.

Sadly, that has not always been the reality. Throughout history, we have seen crimes targeting people because of who they are – because of their race, ethnicity, faith, physical ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

As the world grapples with how to strengthen protections for vulnerable communities, law enforcement professionals in every region have had to adapt their practice. And to ensure that you all are exposed to the very latest thinking and practices, ILEA has continued to broaden its instruction.

And that’s what today’s groundbreaking course is all about – strengthening accountability for bias-motivated crimes, also known as hate crimes, especially those against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people across the region.

Because despite progress toward full equality, LGBTI persons still face staggering rates of violence and bigotry around the world, which in the United States has led to less access to education and increased rates of homelessness and suicide.

Some countries have sought to ban LGBTI identities and conduct outright. More than 75 countries outlaw consensual same-sex relations, and in at least seven of them, the penalty is death. And even in places where LGBTI people can live openly, they still face violence. Scores of LGBTI persons are murdered each year for the “crime” of living openly as who they are and professing honestly whom they love.

But after centuries of silence, the world is beginning to wake up to these crimes and implement new laws and policies to protect the LGBTI community.

But standing up to discrimination is about more than protecting any one community. When everyone feels included and protected, it strengthens the social fabric and makes communities more resilient to all manner of violence.

Under the Obama Administration, the United States has acted to strengthen legal protections for all Americans, especially those most vulnerable to violence. In 2009, we strengthened legal tools for addressing hate crimes against LGBTI individuals and persons with disabilities, and also established new units to bring perpetrators to justice.

President Obama has made this a priority of his administration, directing the entire U.S. government to strengthen protections for LGBTI individuals at home while increasing support for law enforcement around the world to do the same.

Thailand has also been a leader in strengthening protections for the LGBTI community. It was the first country in Asia to protect the rights of transgender people and prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

But while new laws and policies are an important first step, they are nothing without implementation. That’s what actually makes a difference in people’s lives. As law enforcement professionals, you understand the importance of process. You know how mishandling evidence, misreporting testimony, or even messing up paperwork can lead to a miscarriage of justice.

And as you also know, each type of crime has its own set of considerations. Hate crimes are no exception, which is why this course will focus on the particular process for identifying, managing, and investigating these cases.

In this course, you will also see examples of how countries across the region are adapting their institutions and practices to better address hate crimes. Those with more experience can share their lessons, and others who are just beginning to consider these issues can listen with an open mind.

In participating in this training, you are part of something innovative and historic.

So let’s keep broadening ILEA’s courses, and our practices back home, so that all citizens – whatever their ethnicity, religion, ability, or sexual orientation – can trust that their rights will be protected not only by the law, but by those who enforce it.

Because when any one group goes unprotected, either because it’s unpopular or politically vulnerable, that weakens the entire social contract.

Attitudes change; political power shifts; new groups fall in and out of favor. But what gives societies stability is the rule of law, blind to bias, constant in its enforcement, and unflinching in its pursuit of justice.

That is your work – that is your privilege, so thank you for what you do, and I wish you all a productive course.