Together against corruption [Archives:2005/901/Reportage]

December 8 2005

Tomorrow will mark the second anniversary for the International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December since the signing conference for the United Nations Convention against Corruption was held in Merida, Mexico. Yemen has recently ratified the convention and in effect it has become bound to fighting corruption.

The Forum for Civil Society which is a non-governmental, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization to promote democracy and strengthen civil society, is currently working on promoting this convention in Yemen. For promotion of the cause the Forum is holding a press meeting today in which a number of journalists and human rights advocates are participating.

The creation of an Anti-Corruption Day is in large part a result of the international lobbying efforts by Transparency International to recognize worldwide anti-graft initiatives. The UN Convention against Corruption is a milestone for global efforts to combat graft and provides a unique opportunity to create public awareness and commitment to curbing corruption. The Convention is evidence of global commitment and gives citizens around the world a basis for ensuring that their respective governments follow through.

Effective action against corruption is the responsibility of governments, and implementation of the Convention rests in the hands of States. Civil society and the private sector also have an active role to play in these efforts by supporting governments and holding them accountable. However, the capacity to take these actions does not always exist in many developing and least developed countries. For this reason, UNODC provides technical assistance through legal advisory services for the ratification of the Convention and technical cooperation projects focusing on preventive measures.

In its resolution 55/61 of 4 December 2000, the General Assembly recognized that an effective international legal instrument against corruption, independent of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (resolution 55/25, annex I) was desirable and decided to establish an ad hoc committee for the negotiation of such an instrument in Vienna at the headquarters of the Centre for International Crime Prevention, Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. The text of the United Nations Convention against Corruption was negotiated during seven sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of the Convention against Corruption, held between 21 January 2002 and 1 October 2003.

The Convention approved by the Ad Hoc Committee was adopted by the General Assembly by resolution 58/4 of 31 October 2003. The General Assembly, in its resolution 57/169 of 18 December 2002, accepted the offer of the Government of Mexico to host a high-level political signing conference in Merida for the purpose of signing the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The Assembly invited all States to be represented at the Conference at the highest possible levels of Government.

Convention highlights


Corruption can be prosecuted after the fact, but first and foremost, it requires prevention. An entire chapter of the Convention is dedicated to prevention, with measures directed at both the public and private sectors. These include model preventive policies, such as the establishment of anticorruption bodies and enhanced transparency in the financing of election campaigns and political parties. States must endeavor to ensure that their public services are subject to safeguards that promote efficiency, transparency and recruitment based on merit. Once recruited, public servants should be subject to codes of conduct, requirements for financial and other disclosures, and appropriate disciplinary measures. Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements are established for the prevention of corruption, in the particularly critical areas of the public sector, such as the judiciary and public procurement. Those who use public services must expect a high standard of conduct from their public servants. Preventing public corruption also requires an effort from all members of society at large. For these reasons, the Convention calls on countries to promote actively the involvement of non-governmental and community-based organizations, as well as other elements of civil society, and to raise public awareness of corruption and what can be done about it. Article 5 of the Convention enjoins each State Party to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.


The Convention requires countries to establish criminal and other offences to cover a wide range of acts of corruption, if these are not already crimes under domestic law. In some cases, States are legally obliged to establish offences; in other cases, in order to take into account differences in domestic law, they are required to consider doing so. The Convention goes beyond previous instruments of this kind, criminalizing not only basic forms of corruption such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, but also trading in influence and the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption. Offences committed in support of corruption, including money-laundering and obstructing justice, are also dealt with. Convention offences also deal with the problematic areas of private-sector corruption.

International cooperation

Countries agreed to cooperate with one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation, and the prosecution of offenders. Countries are bound by the Convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court, to extradite offenders. Countries are also required to undertake measures which will support the tracing, freezing, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of corruption.

Asset recovery

In a major breakthrough, countries agreed on asset-recovery, which is stated explicitly as a fundamental principle of the Convention. This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where high-level corruption has plundered the national wealth, and where resources are badly needed for reconstruction and the rehabilitation of societies under new governments. Reaching agreement on this chapter has involved intensive negotiations, as the needs of countries seeking the illicit assets had to be reconciled with the legal and procedural safeguards of the countries whose assistance is sought.

Several provisions specify how cooperation and assistance will be rendered. In particular, in the case of embezzlement of public funds, the confiscated property would be returned to the state requesting it; in the case of proceeds of any other offence covered by the Convention, the property would be returned providing the proof of ownership or recognition of the damage caused to a requesting state; in all other cases, priority consideration would be given to the return of confiscated property to the requesting state, to the return of such property to the prior legitimate owners or to compensation of the victims.

Effective asset-recovery provisions will support the efforts of countries to redress the worst effects of corruption while sending at the same time, a message to corrupt officials that there will be no place to hide their illicit assets. Accordingly, article 51 provides for the return of assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle of this Convention. Article 43 obliges state parties to extend the widest possible cooperation to each other in the investigation and prosecution of offences defined in the Convention. With regard to asset recovery in particular, the article provides inter alia that “In matters of international cooperation, whenever dual criminality is considered a requirement, it shall be deemed fulfilled irrespective of whether the laws of the requested State Party place the offence within the same category of offence or denominate the offence by the same terminology as the requesting State Party, if the conduct underlying the offence for which assistance is sought is a criminal offence under the laws of both States Parties”.

The long hand of corruption

The greatest impact of corruption is on the poor those least able to absorb its costs. By illegally diverting state funds corruption undercuts services, such as health, education, public transportation or local policing, that those with few resources are dependent upon. Petty corruption provides additional costs for citizens not only are service provision inadequate, but payment is required for the delivery of even the most basic government activity, such as the issuing of official documentation.

In many countries, applicants for drivers' licences, building permits and other routine documents have learned to expect a “surcharge” from civil servants. At a higher level, larger sums are paid for public contracts, marketing rights or to sidestep inspections and red tape. However, the consequences of corruption are more pervasive and profound than these bribes suggest. Corruption causes reduced investment or even disinvestment, with many long-term effects, including social polarization, lack of respect for human rights, undemocratic practices and diversion of funds intended for development and essential services.

The diversion of scarce resources by corrupt parties affects a government's ability to provide basic services to its citizens and to encourage sustainable economic, social and political development. Moreover, it can jeopardize the health and safety of citizens through, for example, poorly designed infrastructure projects and scarce or outdated medical supplies.

Most fundamentally, corruption undermines the prospects for economic investment. Few foreign firms wish to invest in societies where there is an additional level of taxation. National and international companies too by offering bribes to secure business, undercut legitimate economic competition, distort economic growth and reinforce inequalities. In many societies widespread public suspicion that judicial systems are corrupt and that criminal acts are committed by elites in both the private and public spheres undercuts government legitimacy and undermines the rule of law.

Along with the growing reluctance of international investors and donors to allocate funds to countries lacking adequate rule of law, transparency and accountability in government administration, corruption has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable part of a country's population, the poor.

* Text provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime