Compensating Victims of Corruption

That corruption is not a victimless crime is no longer in doubt.  The once fashionable argument that corruption advances human welfare by “greasing the wheels” of clunky bureaucracies has been entombed thanks to a plethora of academic studies, media reports, and first-person accounts showing the undeniable, often enormous, harm corruption wreaks on individuals and society as a whole.  As UN Secretary General António Guterres told this week’s seventh meeting of the parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption, that harm ranges from denying citizens access to such basic rights as “health services, schools and economic opportunities” to undermining the very foundation of the state through enabling “a small elite in positions of power to prosper” thus destroying citizens’ “faith in good governance.”

While the damage corruption does is now clear, how to recompense the losses it causes is anything but.  The definitive legal text, the UN Convention Against Corruption, offers little help.  To be sure, article 35 requires state parties to give those “who have suffered damage as a result of an act of corruption … the right to initiate legal proceedings against those responsible … to obtain compensation and article 57 directs governments that have recovered the proceeds of corrupt acts to give priority to “compensating the victims of the crime.” Nowhere, however, does the convention offers any guidance on how to determine who is a victim of corruption or how their damages should be determined.  As a result, both international and domestic law on victim compensation will have to develop through court decisions, learned commentary, and legislation.

An important step in developing this law is the paper the UNCAC Coalition, a network of some 350 civil society groups from over 100 countries, submitted to this week’s meeting of UNCAC state parties.  “Recovery of Damages and Compensation for Victims of Corruption” draws on international law and emerging law and practice in both developed and developing states to guide the creation of laws governing corruption victim compensation.   The Coalition urges governments to: Continue reading