Putting Corruption on the Human Rights Agenda

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights along with the UNODC will hold an expert workshop this Monday, June 11, on what the human rights bodies within the United Nations system can do to advance the fight against corruption.  A cross-section of human rights and anticorruption experts will discuss ways to link anticorruption measures with efforts to promote and protect human rights, examine methods for assessing the impact corruption has on the enjoyment of human rights, and consider what more the UN-system, particularily the Human Rights Council, can do to assist member states adopt a rights-based approach to combatting corruption.  More information on the session here.

The workshop will be followed by a meeting jointly organized by Center for Civil and Political Rights, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop new advocacy tools for the UN human rights mechanisms, in particular the bodies that oversee compliance with the various human rights treaties, to address the issue of corruption.  More information on this meeting here.

This writer is one of several activists concerned with both human rights and corruption who identfied eight actions that should be immediately taken to align efforts to promote human rights with those aimed at fighting corruption.  The eight are listed in the following letter that will be provided to all those attending the two meetings.

International Network for Victims of Corruption

Putting Corruption On The Human Rights Agenda: Proposal To UN Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies

Corruption is one of the major reasons people are denied the full enjoyment of their rights enshrined in UN human rights treaties.  Conversely, the failure of states to protect these rights is a root cause of corruption. The close relationship between human rights violations and corruption has been considered a number of times by UN human rights treaty bodies. For instance, the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights regularly included a section on corruption in its Concluding Observations to State parties after the dialogue with the country concerned. However, little progress has been made in setting out adequate remedies for human rights violations caused by corruption.

The UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) has proven to be an important instrument governing the international fight against corruption; however it does not directly address the need to remedy corruption-related human rights problems. Moreover, UNCAC does not provide sufficiently accessible mechanisms that would allow citizens to complain of the harm they have suffered from corruption, nor does it recognize a role for activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) in monitoring states’ compliance with this treaty. Under UNCAC, it is not mandatory to include CSOs in contributing information for country reviews.

In contrast to the process under UNCAC, UN human rights treaty bodies provide victims and their representatives with an established role in contributing to holding states accountable for violations. CSOs have opportunities to contribute information for treaty bodies to take into account in country reviews where State parties reports’ are examined and discussed. They brief the Committees and can be present for the reviews in person or virtually though the UN TV webcasts.

Victims and their representatives should be allowed to bring complaints of non-compliance and participate in the monitoring process under UNCAC. Until this is permitted, the UN human rights mechanisms and CSOs associated with it have the mandate under the existing treaties to take certain steps to fill the prevailing gaps in global anti-corruption efforts. For this purpose, human rights treaty bodies and relevant special procedures need to have expertise and awareness of the issue, consolidate their jurisprudence and address the link between human rights and corruption in both their Concluding Observations and their views on individuals communications of human rights violations. By integrating a human rights perspective into anti-corruption strategies, the implementation of preventive policies becomes an obligation.[1] Here is what is proposed to fulfil this agenda:

  1. Elaborate the concept of victims of corruption, understood both narrowly, as a concrete individual or legal persons who are directly suffered harm and violation by concrete acts of corruption, and broadly, as the whole society or particular communities whose rights are negatively affected by corruption.
  2. Pay special attention to the social costs of corruption; develop instruments, measures and means to collect data in order to assess the implications of corruption on human rights.
  3. Incorporate corruption as a root-cause of human rights abuse, and vice-versa, on human violations as a root-cause of corruption, and seek respective solutions within UN human rights feedback mechanisms. For instance, demonstrate how the right to a fair trial, to legal defense and freedom of press can prevent corrupt practices and abuse of public office; how the right to political participation can be used as an accountability mechanism; etc.
  4. Encourage UN human rights treaty bodies and relevant special procedures to be aware of how the issues of corruption factor into, as well as incorporate into their mandate, for example, by adopting Concluding Observations and views on individual communications of human rights violations that directly address the subject of corruption with recommendations on measures aimed at effectively addressing the issue.
  5. Encourage regular submissions of information on corruption by the CSOs specialized on corruption issues to the various UN human rights treaty bodies, the UPR and relevant special procedures mandate holders and monitor with a view to address and follow-up.
  6. Advocate for the establishment by the Human Rights Council, as necessary, a special procedures mandate that would accumulate expertise on the subject of corruption & human rights and elaborate on modalities and a framework for reporting by concerned CSOs, activists and journalists.
  7. Create a cross-human-rights-mechanisms platform for regular consultations, exchange of views and developing and consolidating expertise on the links between human rights and corruption and relevant remedies.
  8. Actively communicate with UNODC, UNCAC Secretariat and concerned Members States on the prevailing human rights concerns on corruption and assess methods of better integrating working processes. Initiate informative side panel briefings and discussions at the next UNCAC Conference of State Party Conference.


Our network consists of anti-corruption and human rights NGOs, academics and legal experts, and aims to promote remedy to victims of corruption as part of anti-corruption and human rights law and respective practices.

 Contact persons:

Richard Messick, US attorney, contributor to Global Anti-Corruption Blog,  messickrick@gmail.com    

Fatima Kanji, International State Crime Initiative, Queen Mary University of London, f.kanji@qmul.ac.uk

Patrick Mutzenberg, CCPR Centre, pmutzenberg@ccprcentre.org

Alisher Ilkhamov, Open Society Foundations, Alisher.Ilkhamov@opensocietyfoundations.org  

[1] Final report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the issue of the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights, A/HRC/28/73.

1 thought on “Putting Corruption on the Human Rights Agenda

  1. STRATEGY/FOCUS: Hooray for this long over-due workshop and kudos to the organizers! While few in the past have seen this cross-cutting all-important issue as critically important to both the human rights and anti-corruption communities, perhaps its time has finally arrived.

    While the 8 point suggestions are all sound and represent a good start, I hope those reading GAB will seize on the opportunity to contribute to the discussion both before and after the workshop. There are many more good ideas out there and they all need to be linked and prioritized.

    When I look at the agenda it does not seem to be as strategically focused as it could be, although maybe that will be better reflected. As a quasi-academic and practitioner, the agenda and 8 points also sound a little too academic, all-over-the-map and non-action oriented to me. Indeed, a number of the issues raised have already been discussed and researched before (as noted in the publications cited in the agenda).

    Clearly, some human rights and corruption issues, as well as some institutions, laws and protections, are more important and need more priority attention than others. At the same time, as we all know, country context is all important. Thus, someone should ask the question which of these issues are most important to address and in which countries? At the same time, some countries clearly need more attention than others and any action-oriented recommendations should give these countries due priority consideration. Maybe the development of a short and long term strategy with both action and prevention teeth is not possible at this workshop but it is important to begin its development at this important workshop and to plan a series of additional workshops and long-term objectives.

    I believe one other idea worthy of consideration is how to build on and link not only the model academic courses that have already been developed relevant the UDHR and the UNCAC but many others they have birthed in many countries. Until we focus on educating the next generation of leaders and their teachers, no idea that comes out of this workshop will be sustainable or result in real change or collective action.

    I would submit this agenda item, along with others focused on how to marry the human rights and anti-corruption communities on a mutual agenda, should be the workshop’s overriding focus.

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