GAB’ s latest post on compensating victims of corruption is below. Authored by Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Hastings Law and President of the Board of the Due Process of Law Foundation, it recounts the harm those living along the Gualcarque river in Western Honduras suffered from the corrupt award of a contract for a hydroelectric dam and the community’s efforts to recover damages for their injuries. While a trial court has recognized the community is entitled to relief as corruption victims, on specious reasoning an appellate court denied them victim status. As Professor Roht-Arriaza explains, the case is now before the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court. It can either reverse the appellate court decision or affirm its denial of an effective remedy for the enormous harm corruption has wreaked on the community.
Who are the victims of grand corruption? The answer used to be “no one” or, at best, the state itself. But especially with the advent of a human rights approach to corruption in the Inter-American and United Nations human rights systems, that perception is slowly changing. Grand corruption affects the full range of human rights of individuals and groups. When rights are violated, states have an obligation under international law to investigate, prosecute, and provide redress. The UN Convention Against Corruption mirrors this requirement in Article 35.
And yet national courts have been reluctant to recognize the rights of those who have suffered damage — either to participate in proceedings involving grand corruption or to recognize them as victims due compensation. In part, the reluctance stems from difficulties legal doctrine creates for establishing the causal link between a specific act of corruption and harm to a specific person or group. To create the same “justice cascade” as in human rights cases, corruption victims should be able to seek relief through either a criminal or civil action and as either individuals or communities or through representative organizations. Where a state prosecutor has brought charges, victims should be able, as they can in France and Spain, to be full participants in the prosecution.
The corruption in the bidding, contracting and construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras would seem to be the poster child for victims’ compensation. In an atmosphere of widespread corruption from the top down, a well-known elite family won a contract to generate and sell electricity to the state: without being on the list of approved bidders, without a valid environmental impact statement, and with a design apparently aimed at maximizing the haul from government coffers.Continue reading