Return to: Index of 1996 Secretary of State's Speeches/Testimonies || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

U.S. Department of State
96/02/28 Remarks: Meeting with Min. of Justice & others, Chile
Office of the Spokesman

                     U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                      Office of the Spokesman 
                         (Santiago, Chile) 
For Immediate Release                             February 28, 1996 
                    REMARKS BY SECRETARY OF STATE 
                        Ministry of Justice 
                          Santiago, Chile 
                         February 28, 1996 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Madame Minister and distinguished ladies and 
gentlemen, I want to thank, to begin with, the staff members of the 
Legal Services Center for explaining to me the excellent program that 
you have.  It reflects the determination of your country to extend the 
rule of law and the benefits of prosperity to all of your people.  The 
United States is pleased to have had in an earlier time a modest role in 
the commencement of this endeavor, and we are certainly pleased to be 
here to see the progress that has been made. 
In the last few years, almost every nation in Latin America and the 
Caribbean has arrived at a new consensus that democratic governments and 
open markets serve the interests of all the people, a consensus that 
led, in this hemisphere, to the greatest period of prosperity and 
cooperation that our hemisphere has ever known.  Certainly there is no 
better example, indeed I think there is no example as good, as that of 
Since embracing market democracy, Chile has received many plaudits 
around the world for the remarkable economic growth that you have had 
and the way that you've succeeded in lifting millions of people from 
poverty.  At the same time, the accomplishments give you an obligation 
to extend the model that you've had to all the people of the nation.  
This is a model for reform that I think has been widely appreciated 
around the world. 
Chile has understood that free market reform alone by no means insures 
that every child born in poverty will have a chance to overcome it.  
Democratic elections alone do not guarantee that every citizen will be 
treated with dignity under the law.  That is why our nations declared in 
the Summit of the Americas in Miami that democracy is judged by the 
rights enjoyed by the least influential members of society.  That is why 
the work of this center, the program that you've outlined here today and 
others like it, are so vital and so worthy of continued support.  The 
lawyers and the staff who work in this program are helping to insure 
that every Chilean citizen has access to the law. 
As I understand the presentation here, you have sixty legal service 
centers to provide legal services to more than seven hundred thousand 
people, a truly splendid result.  You apparently handle everything from 
criminal cases to labor disputes, and, of course, we've heard an 
eloquent example of the kind of assistance that this program can render.  
The program also apparently helps to educate citizens about their rights 
and offers a variety of social services.  In short, these sixty centers 
provide working proof of Chile's commitment to democracy and to the rule 
of law. 
Our hemisphere is striving to provide justice for all people.  I have 
had a deep interest in this program for many years.  I myself served in 
the United States Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General in 
the late 1960s and, at that time, I had special responsibility for the 
rights of citizens.  In my private legal career, I have been deeply 
involved in what is always, I suppose, an unfinished task of trying to 
insure the legal rights for each and every American.  I found that legal 
guarantees often mean very little until they are vindicated by citizens 
in a court of law.  But when citizens can assert their rights without 
fear, when they have confidence that justice will prevail because they 
have confidence in the judicial system, then law comes to life and so 
does the confidence and faith that people have in democracy. 
Many of you are familiar with the famous book, The Postman, whose film 
version has been nominated for an Academy Award in the United States 
this year.  It has introduced millions of Americans to the poetry of 
Pablo Neruda, and I must say this book and the film has brought to our 
attention a whole new aspect of culture.  In the book, Neruda explains 
to a young postman that the names of things have nothing whatsoever to 
do with how simple or how complicated they are.  As the Chilean people 
know well, democracy is the simple name for a complicated system of 
government and a complicated set of challenges. 
If democracy is to endure, our citizens must have access to the legal 
system and to the skills they need to lead a productive life.  Through 
the kind of programs that you have described here today, Chile is 
advancing the same principle that President Clinton has embraced in the 
United States, and that is putting people first.  Our nations are united 
in their commitment to make democracy work for all the people.  We are 
united in our support for programs like this Legal Services Center and 
the sixty centers that you have throughout your nation.  
It is an honor to be here today and to get this important glimpse of 
life within the Chilean democracy.  I was saying to the Minister earlier 
this morning, throughout our hemisphere the scourge of criminal conduct 
is troublesome in so many countries.  I hear demands for more justice, a 
better criminal system throughout the entire hemisphere.  One very 
important element of that is a justice system, a court system in which 
people have confidence.  No law enforcement endeavor will be successful 
unless the people have confidence that the enforcement system will 
protect the rights of all, that is, protect the rights of those who are 
arrested as well as to protect the rights of the innocent victims.  It 
is very much a two-sided problem, and I am very grateful for this 
exposition of the program you have here for protecting the rights of 
your citizens.  Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you. 
QUESTION:  The first question is as follows:  Must the legal assistance 
job be only legal or should it involve other kinds of support?  What is 
your opinion? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I suppose the true test of this is what will 
work best for the citizens.  In the United States we basically approach 
the question from two different directions. Some of the legal service 
centers concentrate solely on criminal justice issues.  On the other 
hand, some of the centers have a multiple purpose, for example, 
providing access to information about jobs, perhaps providing access to 
medical services.  Clearly, in some of the poorest neighborhoods where 
poverty is so endemic, the citizens like to have an opportunity to have 
information about various rights and various opportunities.  I think my 
answer would be, Madame Minister, that there's no one model that serves 
best in all circumstances, and that probably we should be quite 
pragmatic in trying to determine which will fit a particular system 
QUESTION:   What is the opinion of the average citizen in your country 
about the administration of justice in the United States?  As we have 
said before, it is important for the legitimacy of the democratic system 
that the people have faith in the resolution of legal conflicts in 
accord with the law, and it is from that point of view that the justice 
system is being studied. 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Ladies and gentlemen:  I think that one needs to 
be quite humble in answering a question like this.  I would certainly 
not assert that our system of justice is by any means perfect or that 
people have complete confidence in it.  At the same time, I think one of 
the reasons our society works as well as it does, and it does work quite 
well, is that first, there is full confidence in the overall honesty and 
integrity of the justice system in the United States.  There are always 
exceptions.  There are always situations where a judge or a justice 
proves to be unworthy.  But those are very much in the minority, and 
when that situation occurs, the corruption is rooted out with 
considerable speed. 
Another very important aspect of our justice system that is sometimes 
taken for granted is that, even though we have a robust democracy and 
our political parties move in and out of control of the government, 
nevertheless the justice system is independent of the party in power.  
There is no massive change, for example, in our court systems at the 
time of a change in the political party in control of our government.  
All of the federal court judges in the United States are appointed for 
life which is a very good assurance of the integrity of the system.  
With our dual system of justice, many states have judges who run for 
office, but they run for prolonged terms, frequently twelve years, and 
their terms do not expire contemporaneous with the change of a political 
party.  So, generally speaking, I think I can say with some confidence 
that the people of our country have a confidence that our justice system 
is not infected with a political bias. 
With respect to the law enforcement side of the picture, the work of our 
police is generally widely admired.  Once again, there are occasions 
where that is far from perfect.  I myself have been deeply involved in 
investigations of police departments that permitted too much violence, 
that were corrupted by an over-use of force.  But by and large that is 
the exception to the rule, and when that happens, generally speaking, 
that miserable conduct is rooted out. 
So I say, without being humble about it and not wanting to over-state 
the case, I think the people in the United States have confidence that 
the justice system works in an overall sense.  We have many agencies 
that are hard at work to improve the justice system and that are hard at 
work to try to correct the defects where they have been perceived. 
QUESTION:   Private institutions have a role in legal assistance work in 
Chile.  Is it the same in your country, and, if so, how does it work?  
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  First, I, perhaps, should say a word of apology 
to the Minister and to all the audience.  These questions take me back 
to a different part of my life.  I am accustomed to answering detailed 
questions on foreign affairs matters these days.  I have not been a 
practicing lawyer actively for about four years, Madame Minister, and 
these questions are recalling a different and very happy time of my 
life.  So, if I seem a little halting in my answers, it is that I am 
having to reach back to some part of my brain that hasn't been used for 
some time. 
Private institutions play a very important role in the administration of 
justice.  In this sense, the legal services that are made available to 
the poor depend very heavily on the private institutions. Let's take 
several examples. 
For example, bar associations throughout the country, that is, the 
associations of bars, exist in our country at both the local level, the 
state level, and the federal level.  Virtually all bar associations have 
very strong programs to assist the poor in vindicating their legal 
rights.  When I was in Los Angeles and President of the Bar Association, 
we had a very substantial program there for providing citizens with 
information and representation to vindicate their legal rights.  This is 
primarily in the civil field, although to some extent it was involved in 
the criminal field as well. 
The law firms of the country also devote a substantial portion of their 
work to what we call "pro bono"  work, that is work in the public 
interest.  I headed a large law firm before I came into government, 
consisting of about 600 lawyers.  We took some satisfaction in the fact 
that about ten percent of our hourly billings were "pro bono" hours, 
that is that they were contributed to public endeavors (eight to ten 
percent I believe in the last year before I came into government).  That 
will be true of a number of other lawyers in leading law firms.  There 
is a very strong tradition in our country of lawyers contributing a 
substantial amount of their time to public interest work, kind of a 
special tithing. 
There are a number of foundations in the United States that contribute 
substantial funds to the representation of the poor.  Indeed there are 
some foundations set up solely for that purpose.  There has also grown 
up in the United States the institution of the "pro bono" law firm.  The 
one in Los Angeles that is best known is called The Center for Law in 
the Public Interest which vindicates the rights of citizens in test 
cases.  These are primarily cases brought on behalf of the public to 
vindicate particular kinds of rights.  For example, rights of citizens 
when a freeway is being built through a city, or the rights of citizens 
when a group of citizens try to establish a wall around their community.  
There are many pluses and minuses in cases like that.  Those are some 
examples of the work of private citizens in the overall administration 
of justice. 
I might just say a word about our criminal system, where the private 
parties do not play such a large role, although they play some role.  In 
our system, defendants in all felony cases have a right to counsel.  
That right to counsel is usually provided by a special function of our 
government that's akin to the prosecutor's office but who specializes in 
defense work.  So every criminal defendant who does not have means, who 
can meet the poverty test, is assigned a counsel in all felony cases.  
Now sometimes, the defendant's representation simply overburdens these 
public agencies, these defense agencies, and then the private bar and 
private citizens have to come and assist.  One of the major examples of 
this is in capital cases, that is cases where an individual has been 
sentenced to death, death sentence cases.  Many private lawyers 
contribute thousands and thousands of hours to representing defendants 
in capital cases.  In addition to that the public defenders office, 
which is the name of the office representing defendants, is sometimes 
overwhelmed and private lawyers in bar associations have to stand in to 
assist the public defenders.  
So, throughout our society, especially through bar associations and 
especially through the commitment of lawyers, but also through private 
endeavors such as foundations, the private sector plays a very large 
role in our administration of justice. 
To the top of this page