The Problem With Framing Freedom From Corruption as a Human Right

It is widely recognized that corruption and human rights violations are linked. Corruption, after all, facilitates the violation of human rights–not only civil and political rights, but social and economic rights as well. (This blog has previously discussed those linkages here and here.) Some scholars and activists have gone further, arguing that freedom from official corruption is itself a human right. A useful recent example is a Brookings Paper by attorney Matthew Murray and Professor (and occasional GAB guest contributor) Andrew Spalding, but they are not alone. Advocates of this position claim that reframing corruption as a human rights violation is needed to instill a greater sense of obligation among national governments and to promote more robust enforcement.

I am skeptical. I do not deny the deep connection between human rights and anticorruption, particularly in developing countries, where access to basic human rights such as food, shelter, water, and education, is often hampered by rampant corruption. But I do not think that trying to establish “freedom from official corruption” as a human right per se (as opposed to recognizing the ways in which corruption contributes to human rights violations and other egregious social harms) is a productive use of time and energy.

Let me first summarize what I take to be the core arguments in favor of establishing freedom from corruption as a human right, and then explain why I respectfully disagree. Continue reading