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UN launches new global convention against graft on December 9th, henceforth International Anti-Corruption Day

The UN Convention against Corruption sets new standards and marks a breakthrough for facilitating the return of illicit funds sent abroad, but its success requires political will and a commitment to monitor implementation

The UN Convention against Corruption, to open for signature tomorrow in Merida, Mexico, is a milestone for global efforts to combat graft, says Transparency International, the leading international non-governmental organisation devoted to fighting corruption. The Convention's signing ceremony on December 9th, recently designated International Anti-Corruption Day by the UN General Assembly, is the result of a three-year effort by 129 countries to take global action against corruption.

"The Convention will provide a comprehensive set of standards and measures to promote international co-operation and domestic efforts in the fight to prevent corruption," said Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International, speaking in Merida today. "The Convention addresses glaring inadequacies in two of the most critical tools for combating international corruption: mutual legal assistance and repatriation of funds sent abroad by corrupt officials," Eigen said.

The UN Convention provides for an effective system of mutual legal assistance. This should make it much easier to pursue cases of cross-border corruption. Currently, international corruption cases such as Elf Aquitaine and the Lesotho Highland Water Project are rare exceptions, where persistent prosecutors have achieved results after years of effort. Much more commonly, cases are abandoned because lack of cooperation from abroad makes it almost impossible to follow the money trail.

The UN Convention also raises hopes that funds transferred abroad by corrupt leaders (most famously, charges have been made against Abacha, Taylor, Mobutu, Fujimori, Bhutto and Suharto) can be brought back to the countries from where they were looted and used for the well-being of the people. The Convention is groundbreaking in including for the first time in an international legal instrument the concept, description and processes for international co-operation in the recovery of such stolen assets. The Convention also establishes the right of people who have suffered damage from corruption to initiate legal proceedings against responsible parties.

But despite the Convention's potential, the text does not provide a process to ensure effective implementation. "The failure to address monitoring, indeed to defer considering it for several years, is the most serious shortcoming of the Convention," said Peter Rooke, Transparency International Advisory Council member. Experience with other anti-corruption conventions, including those of the OECD, the Council of Europe, and the Organization of American States, has clearly demonstrated that monitoring is essential to ensure that diplomatic undertakings are transformed into effective government action against corruption.

Over the three years of negotiations, the UN Convention was watered down in other ways: an important article which required state parties to make the funding of political parties transparent and accountable was replaced by a weak optional provision. A provision calling on states to criminalise bribery in the private sector was made non-mandatory. Still, the inclusion of private sector corruption in the text at least made clear that corporate corruption is of major concern globally.

Transparency International, which participated in all of the UN Convention negotiating sessions, is fully committed to supporting the process of follow-up after the Convention's signing in Merida. TI and its 90 national chapters around the world have extensive experience with the monitoring of existing anti-corruption conventions. "Putting an effective and constructive monitoring mechanism in place may take some time," said Peter Rooke, "but TI welcomes the possibility to contribute to this process."

"The important task ahead is to urge states to ratify the Convention as soon as possible so that it becomes an active, legally binding instrument for states," said Rooke. The Convention requires ratification by 30 countries for its entry into force. But the impact the Convention has in combating corruption will depend on its effective implementation and application by a large number of states."

"As a global anti-corruption instrument, the Convention provides a unique opportunity to create public awareness and commitment to curbing corruption," said Rooke. "This includes awareness of the seriousness of corruption and the existence of steps which can be taken to curb it. The Convention is evidence of global commitment and gives citizens around the world a basis for ensuring that their respective governments follow through." TI therefore welcomes the inclusion in the UN General Assembly resolution to adopt the Convention, of a decision to designate December 9th as the annual International Anti-Corruption Day.

To full text of the UN Convention against Corruption is available at:

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