Anticorruption Truth Commissions? Lessons to be Learned from Human Rights and Transitional Justice

A few months back, Anusha made the case for why “freedom from corruption” should not be regarded as a human right. She pointed out a number of legitimate distinctions between corruption and other human rights violations, as well as practical problems with framing corruption in this way. But there are other ways in which corruption does resemble a human rights violation: namely, in the harm it causes. Like widespread human rights abuses, the harm stemming from corruption is often diffuse and difficult to quantify, often with many victims (not always identifiable) and numerous perpetrators. For practical and functional purposes, in the case of systemic corruption–as in the case of regimes with pervasive human rights abuses–it may not be possible to make reparations to all of the victims or to hold all of the offenders to account.

Thus, even if it is impossible – or undesirable – to fully integrate the anticorruption and human rights agendas, it is still worth considering what lessons we can draw from the human rights regime and incorporate into the anticorruption field. Consider, in particular, one mechanism designed to deal with instances of mass atrocities and systematic human rights violations: the truth commission. In the human rights and transitional justice context, truth commissions are temporary bodies responsible for investigating and publicizing past rights abuses committed by public and private actors. As a general matter, truth commissions prioritize gathering information and establishing an accurate record over punitive sanctions. Truth commissions also often involve a quasi-judicial element – which frequently entails granting amnesty to certain actors or referring cases to prosecutorial entities – and emphasize “bottom-up” victim participation. Certain elements of the truth commission model may be instructive in designing justice measures for corruption crimes.

Continue reading

A Corruption Close-Up: Video Cameras and the Tijuana Police Force

The Tijuana Police Force is rolling out a new program equipping all officers with body cameras with the express purpose of cutting down on corruption. Public perceptions of corruption within the police force run high, a sentiment shared both within and without the force. Tijuana Police Chief Alejandro Lares Valladares hopes that the body cameras, in addition to helping with the force’s tarnished reputation, will also highlight what he feels is a key but far less-discussed aspect of the city’s rampant corruption: the willingness of the public to instigate corrupt exchanges. (In what was a near-perfect opening act for Lares Valladares’ program, just a few days after Tijuana police officers began wearing the cameras, a driver pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, who also did not have her driver’s license, offered to bribe the officer. Footage of the exchange helped Lares Valladares convince those within his department that the cameras are not being used only as means of policing the police, but as a means of protecting all parties.)

Body cameras do have the potential to cut down on corruption, but only if the program is administered correctly. Recent studies on how body cameras influence the use of force both by and against US police officers provide a few key lessons, Police Chief Lares Valladares and his colleagues in Tijuana should take into account. Continue reading

Anticorruption Bibliography–August 2015 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

Can the United State Avoid a Hypocritical Anticorruption Policy?

Last week Matthew wrote how hypocritical Britain appeared when at virtually the same time Prime Minister David Cameron was telling leaders in Southeast Asia to take more vigorous action against corruption, his government was asking U.K. companies if Britain’s anti-bribery law was too harsh.  As Matthew explained, the contradiction was likely more apparent than real, probably the result of poor timing rather than any real difference between the government’s policy towards bribery by British and non-British firms.  Nonetheless, even the possibility of differing standards offered much ammunition to critics of the Cameron government’s aggressive international anticorruption campaign.

Like Prime Minister Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama has been vocal in urging other governments to tackle corruption, lecturing the African Union during his recent visit on the evils of rampant bribery and telling its members to emulate the American example with its “strong laws” against bribery that “we actually enforce.” And like Britain, sooner or later the United States will face the charge that its international anticorruption rhetoric is hypocritical.  The difference will be that whereas the charges laid against the British government arose from a public relations faux pas, in the American case the charges will stem from a genuine contradiction, that between its human rights policy and its commitment to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption.

How will it happen? Continue reading

Guest Post: Fishing for the Right ACA Heads, and Keeping Them Safe

Sofie Arjon Schütte, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, contributes the following guest post, adapted from her recent U4 research paper, “The fish’s head: appointment and removal procedures for anti-corruption agency leadership”:

There has been much discussion on this blog (see here, here, and here) about the requirements for an effective, independent anticorruption agency (ACA). A number of factors are important, including (as emphasized in the Jakarta Statement) the ACA’s mandate, permanence, budget security, autonomy over financial and human resources, and internal and external accountability mechanisms, to name a few. But among the many important factors, the procedures for appointment and removal are particularly critical. As the saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down”: when the leadership of an organization is unethical or ineffective, these failings infect the entire organization. Undue external interference with an ACA is likely to target the head, and a co-opted or corrupted ACA head can do serious damage to the effectiveness and reputation of the ACA.

My research on the appointment and removal procedures for heads of 46 ACAs around the world has highlighted some of the important factors that can promote or undermine effective, ethical, and independent ACA leadership. Given different contexts, no specific set of procedures for appointments and removals can be considered ideal for all environments. Nevertheless, some general guidelines are possible: Continue reading

Get Out Of Jail Free: The Corruption of Police Benevolence Cards

Get out of jail free cards are only supposed to exist in Monopoly. But they also exist in New York, in literal card form – at least for minor traffic infractions. These are the Police Benevolence Association (PBA) Cards. The New York Police Department claims that the cards carry no special privileges and should not influence an officer’s decision whether or not to issue a traffic ticket. The police unions, however, tell a different story. Al O’Leary, a spokesman for the PBA, said that the union expects officers to refrain from writing tickets for those with PBA cards as long as they are not a danger to others. (Of course, this in turn raises the question of why the police are writing traffic tickets for anyone who is not a danger to others.)

Perhaps the most frequent recipients of the cards are family members of police officers. O’Leary justified that by saying officers deserve a perk for their families because “[t]he risks our officers take every day make them different from other people.” Special privileges for family members would be corrupt enough. But union leaders admit that they also hand out cards as “tokens of appreciation” to politicians, judges, lawyers, and reporters. Indeed, the New York Police Benevolence Association’s includes an article headlined: “Call it a PR tool or a get-out-of-jail-free card: Each year, local PBAs hand out stacks to the well-connected.” In Nassau County, special cards are given to large donors to the police foundations. While the cards are particular notorious in New York, they exist in many police departments around the country.

This is corruption, plain and simple. And this corruption is shockingly blatant. Yet to the extent that the cards have generated significant controversy, it has been about the fact that the cards are now easy to buy on eBay, rather than the fact that they exist in the first place. One city councilman called for an investigation because selling the cards was “an insult to the people who do work for the NYPD.” Another, who admitted to holding a card himself, said: “Selling the courtesy to the highest bidder is wrong and probably should be illegal.”

These critics miss the point. The issue is not whether people other than the select favored of police officers gets out of tickets. Councilman Dan Garodnick got it right when he said: “Our traffic laws should not be enforced with winks and nods. I don’t know which is worse, the existence of a get-out-of-jail-free card or the fact that the cards are being hawked on the internet.” Continue reading

Sanctions Systems of Multilateral Banks: Overview and Responses

Although prosecutions under transnational anti-bribery laws like the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may get more attention, the major multilateral development banks (MDBs) have adopted administrative sanctions systems that significantly contribute to the strengthening of integrity structures in the countries in which they operate. Indeed, the seven large MDBs share an anticorruption strategy that includes harmonized definitions of fraudulent, corrupt and other prohibited practices. The strategy also incorporates shared principles for conducting integrity due diligence in private sector transactions, and a framework for sharing information to address integrity concerns. These sanctioning systems help to deter and prevent corruption in funded projects, thereby helping to ensure that MDBs achieve their development mandates and fulfill their fiduciary duty to guarantee that their loans are used “only for the purposes for which the loan was granted”. In some cases, as in the World Bank’s Macmillan Publishers and SNC-Lavalin debarments, MDB sanctions have preceded criminal charges by national authorities. In this post, I will provide a brief overview of these systems. Continue reading

The 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference — Sept. 2-4, Putrajaya, Malaysia

Most readers of this blog are probably already aware of this, but just in case:

The 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference will be held this coming September 2-4 in Putrajaya, Malaysia (about 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur). It looks to be an exciting program with lots of great speakers and interesting panels. Registration is now open. It’s rather expensive (even for poor academics), though there’s a discount if you register by August 14. Hope to see some of you there next month!

[A brief addendum: The fact that one of the world’s biggest anticorruption conferences is going to be held in Malaysia, right at the moment when the Malaysian government is engulfed in a major scandal–with allegations of massive corruption by the Prime Minister himself–should make this conference particularly interesting!]

Why is Corruption so Hard to Define?

Last week Matthew wrote that too much time and energy has been wasted trying to define corruption.  While I agree, I don’t think sufficient attention has been paid to why so many spend so much time arguing about what “corruption” means.  Matthew pointed to the reason in one of the first posts on this blog but stopped just short of the explanation.   Let me take the last, short step in the hopes it will end the interminable, unproductive wrangling over definitions.

In the earlier post Matthew wrote that corruption “implies a deviation from some ideal state” and hence “involves an implicit or explicit selection of a baseline standard of ‘correct’ behavior.”  He went on to explain that in the corruption literature the three most common baselines are the law, public opinion, and public interest.   “Corruption” can then be conduct that deviates from what the law provides, that diverges from what the public thinks is wrongful, or that is at odds with the public interest.  The definition of “corruption” depends upon the baseline; each baseline, as Matthew explained, leads to a different approach to defining “corruption.”

With one slight emendation, Matthew is correct.  But I think making that correction is important for taking the analysis the next step and, I hope, ending, or at least reducing, fruitless debate over definitions. Continue reading

The UK’s Bizarre Mixed Signals on Its Commitment to Fighting Transnational Corruption

Is the fight against corruption in the developing world a key foreign policy priority for the British government? Or has the attention the Cameron government has been paying to this issue mostly just lip service? I’ve been mulling that question in light of two headlines that caught my eye in last week’s news:

  • First, during his visit to Southeast Asia, Prime Minister Cameron has repeatedly pressed for more aggressive action against corruption, first giving a speech in Singapore in which he denounced the scourge of international corruption and unveiled new policy proposals to limit the flow of dirty money into the UK real estate and financial institutions, and then directly confronting Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia about the deepening corruption scandal in the Malaysian government (a fascinating and troubling story that deserves a separate post at some point).
  • Second, back in London – apparently right around the same time that PM Cameron was delivering his stern remarks about the evils of corruption to his Southeast Asian audiences – UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid invited British industry representatives to submit comments on whether the 2010 UK Bribery Act (which prohibits UK firms from bribing foreign officials) is “a problem” that has had an adverse impact on British exports.

These near-simultaneous headlines make the Cameron government look at best inept, and at worst hypocritical, on its treatment of anticorruption as a foreign policy issue. What is the British government thinking? Continue reading