Former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered the keynote address at today’s conference marking the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the University’s Bonavero Institute of Human Rights.
The conference, entitled “Confronting Illiberalism: The Role of the Media, Civil Society and Universities,” explores the forms of illiberalism faced by these three key institutions of liberal democracy, as well as the manner in which different societies are responding to illiberalism.
In her address, Clinton told an audience of academics and distinguished guests: “I hope the people of Europe and the European Union will resist the [illiberal] backslide we are seeing in the East [primarily Russia and China].
“It’s disheartening to watch conservatives in Brussels vote to shield Viktor Orbán from censure, including British Tories. They’ve come a long way from the party of Churchill and Thatcher.
“The slide toward autocracy is at least as grave a threat to the European Project as the financial crisis or Brexit. It’s also a threat to NATO.”
She also expressed her concerns about impending Brexit: “On both sides of the Atlantic, we have to address the challenge of migration with courage and compassion.
“Here in Europe, I add my voice to those warning of the risks of giving up on Schengen and the great benefits that freedom of movement has delivered.
“Nations have a duty to control their borders in concert with their boarders. But we can’t let fear or bias force us to give up the values that have made our democracies both great and good.
“Our goal should be to build societies that are secure and welcoming, where everyone counts and everyone contributes. People who are newcomers to our lands, and people who have lived in the same place for generations.
“Obviously, I realise these priorities will be more difficult to achieve because the current American administration values the flattery of dictators more than the solitary of democracies. And Europe’s woes compound our challenge.
“Without leadership from governments that we’ve counted on in the past, the role of civil society, the press, and the business community in advancing human rights is more important than ever.”
Further to yesterday’s comments criticising Putin’s role in the last US presidential election, Clinton said: “The whole world now knows that Putin’s Russia is waging cyberwar and manipulating social media to influence elections and referenda, and to polarise and cripple democracies across the West. Kremlin-backed hackers and propagandists have sought to inflame divisions and advance an extreme right-wing agenda.
“Here in the UK, senior lawmakers, like Damian Collins, a Tory, and Labour’s Tom Watson, have called for a full and independent investigation into Russia’s role in the Brexit referendum. Collins, who has led the parliamentary inquiry, warns of a crisis in British democracy: “Based on the systematic manipulation of data support the relentless, targeting of citizens.'”
Clinton’s speakership follows her unveiling of a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt at the Bonavero Institute, which Roosevelt was instrumental in drafting, yesterday. She became an Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College at the same event.
Oxford Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson will speak on a panel, “Universities and Illiberalism,” at the conference later today.