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UN Anti-Corruption Convention at a crossroads

The fight against corruption requires tough laws, consistent implementation and a pact with citizens that they and their leaders are in this together. That is what was behind the creation of United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which was introduced in 2003, a legal framework for legislating against corruption.

Twelve years on though progress has been made more is needed. 177 countries have signed the binding treaty and there are hundreds of laws on the books; it’s now a matter of turning words into concrete actions.

This week Transparency International is in St. Petersburg, Russia at the 6th Conference of State Parties where the governments that have signed the UNCAC are meeting to take stock. We are calling on the delegates to both strengthen the convention and commit to greater participation and protection for civil society. Countries are getting off too lightly when they don’t comply and too often civil society critics are silenced.

For the first time there will be a public discussion at the conference of the role of civil society in implementing the UNCAC and, more specifically of the role of civil society in UNCAC processes. Transparency International has submitted recommendations – click here to read them all – to turn the rhetoric of citizen participation into a reality.

The most important recommendation is to create safe and effective conditions for the involvement of civil society. Too many governments, including those who are at the conference and the host Russia are restricting what civil society can do in their countries.

What is UNCAC?

  • UNCAC provides the legal framework for its signatories – there are now 177 – to legislate against corruption.
  • Since the last Conference of State Parties in 2013 Germany and the Czech Republic have joined the club but G20 member Japan and New Zealand are still hold-outs.
  • Article 13 of the convention explicitly recognises the role of civil society participation.
  • UNCAC has a review process to check if countries are introducing and enforcing laws to fight corruption, but it currently lacks a follow-up to the recommendations.

Grand Corruption

Grand corruption is a type of corruption that is in a category of its own and needs special measures and sanctions. We define it as the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many and causes widespread harm to individuals and society. It often goes unpunished.

The UNCAC conference needs to agree on strong action to address this kind of corruption: when the whole of government acts like a criminal organisation and funnels public goods into the hands of the few. We saw that in Peru with former president Alberto Fujimori. The stolen assets by dictators such as Ben Ali in Tunisia are another example.

Grand Corruption is an obstacle to sustainable development and targets the most vulnerable. We have a series of recommendations we will be delivering that aim to strengthen the fight against grand corruption including:

  • tougher sanctions for bribery of foreign officials
  • public registries of who really owns companies (beneficial owners) so the corrupt can’t hide their illicit assets
  • withdrawal of immunities from officials accused of grand corruption so they can be prosecuted

The UNCAC Review Transparency Pledge

The UNCAC Coalition is a group of more than 300 civil society organisations with Transparency International providing the secretariat. It has created a voluntary Transparency Pledge to build support for good practices among governments. We’ll be asking the delegates in St. Petersburg to sign up:

The six principles for better cooperation between civil society and governments are:

  • We will publish updated review schedules for our country review
  • We will share information about the review institution with civil society
  • We will announce the completion of the country review indicating where the report can be found
  • We will promptly post online the self-assessment and the full country report in a UN language, together with the executive summary in local languages
  • We will organise civil society briefings and public debates about the findings of the report
  • We will publicly support participation of civil society observers in UNCAC subsidiary bodies

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