Ambassador Kate Byrnes speaks at Ohrid School of Natural Law conference

Ambassador Byrnes delivered remarks at the Ohrid School of Natural Law Conference, October 12, 2021.

On October 12, 2021, Ambassador Kate M. Byrnes delivered remarks at a virtual gathering of 30 graduate law students and academicians at the 2021 Ohrid School of Natural Law, titled “Fundamentals of the Legal Reform in the Republic of North Macedonia and Environmental Justice.” 

Read the remarks below to learn more.

Ambassador Byrnes’ opening remarks at the 2021 Ohrid School of Natural Law
Fundaments of Legal Reform and Environmental Justice in the Republic of North Macedonia

Good morning.  It’s great to be sharing the virtual stage today with MASA member and host Vlado Kambovski; ministers Marichikj and Nuredini; my colleague, Ambassador Koja; and NGO representative Hadzi-Zafirov.  And it’s wonderful to see the faces of North Macedonia’s best and brightest law students online.

The U.S. Embassy has supported the Ohrid Law School for four years now, and we continue to invest in building the skills of North Macedonia’s future leaders.  We see these as investments not only in all of you as individuals, but in our country’s joint goals – to support North Macedonia to strengthen its rule of law, to build stronger and more independent institutions, and fight corruption and impunity.  These goals form the backbone of a strong democracy, allowing for economic prosperity to take hold.

And in return, we expect that each one of you – as a future Supreme Court Justice, Chief Public Prosecutor, leading human rights lawyer, or legal scholar – we expect that you will invest in and continue advancing North Macedonia’s rule of law in your chosen profession.  Until then, as the most promising students and as citizens, I call on you to start this work now by holding your government officials and institutions accountable.  Call for transparency.  Call for accountability.  Call out corruption.  Make your voices heard.

I’m also glad that you are here lending your voices to discuss legal and judicial protection of the environment; the conference theme is not only timely – it’s critical.  While we often hear about money laundering or procurement fraud, environmental crimes in many ways remain in the shadows – especially in North Macedonia.  Crimes like illegal logging and air pollution pose serious threats to your wellbeing and to the environment of your beautiful country.  Whether it is wildfires in Strumica or Hurricane Ida in New York, we are now witnesses to the devastating impacts of our actions on the climate and the environment.

Fortunately, there are actions that we can take.  As Secretary Blinken said last month at the UN Security Council, “let us be driven by the imagination of all the ways our response can actually make people’s lives better, now and into the future.”   I commend you for responding – for using your creative minds to delve into the laws and reforms necessary to prosecute environmental crimes.

But as you well know, drafting laws and reforms is not enough.  Laws must be implemented.  Investigations must be initiated.  And trials must conclude – before a lay judge retires or a statute of limitation expires.  Violators must be held accountable, regardless of political affiliation or the size of the business.  These legal solutions must apply to everyone, with all citizens and businesses equal under the law.  Everyone, whether we live in Skopje or in Ohrid, should have the right to breath clean and healthy air.  And the law should uphold that right.

As partners, the U.S. government will continue to support you in your work to protect the environment.  It’s why the U.S. Embassy INL and OPDAT teams have stepped up our assistance to help North Macedonia investigate and prosecute illegal logging and water pollution.  And I’m thrilled to announce the arrival of Jim Lofton, a Fulbright scholar who will be teaching trial advocacy and environmental law at Tetovo State University and South East European University. You’ll hear from Jim later today.

President Biden in his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly said “we will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time — from COVID to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights.  But we will not go it alone.  We will lead together with our Allies and partners…”  Working together, I’m convinced that North Macedonia will continue its reform story to increase transparency, fight corruption, and end impunity, protecting its people and the environment.

I wish you another successful Ohrid Law School conference, and I look forward to hearing your individual and collective calls for action to shape North Macedonia’s – and the world’s – future.  Thank you.