More on International Principles for Anticorrution Agencies: A Cautionary Example from Human Rights?

In my last post, I raised questions about the 2012 Jakarta Statement on Principles for Anticorruption Agencies (ACAs). My main concerns were (1) that many of the principles were framed in such open-ended and flexible terms that they failed to really commit to anything in particular; (2) that a number of the principles that do endorse concrete criteria are questionable on substantive grounds; and (3) the statement failed to acknowledge or address a key tension between its calls for more mechanisms to promote ACA independence and its call (in more general terms) for mechanisms to preserve accountability and prevent ACAs from abusing their power. Here I want to follow up on the first concern, and highlight recent research on the effect of the 1991 Paris Principles on the Design of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).

The comparison between the Jakarta Statement and the Paris Principles is apt. Samuel De Jaegere, a UN official and one of the main proponents and advocates of the Jakarta Statement, published a 2012 article outlining principles for anticorruption agencies, which the Jakarta Statement itself tracks closely, though not precisely. (I am not sure whether De Jaegere’s paper formed the basis of the Jakarta Statement, or whether both the paper and the Statement were the result of ongoing behind-the-scenes discussion and dialogue, but they are clearly related.) De Jaegare’s article specifically references the Paris Principles for NHRIs as a model that ACAs could follow, and goes so far as to suggest that the voluntary “accreditation” system that the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC) has created for NHRIs (in which letter grades are assigned based on the degree of compliance with the Paris Principles) could be emulated for ACAs. As De Jaegere puts it, “The main lesson learnt from NHRIs for ACAs is: a set of principles and a monitoring mechanism may strengthen the independence, effectiveness and success of ACAs.”

That sounds appealing, but recent empirical research on the actual impact of the Paris Principles should give us pause. That research, by Katerina Linos of Berkeley Law School and Tom Pegram of University College London, suggests that while the Paris Principles appears to have succeeded in promoting adherence to the Principles’ fixed terms (in both democratic and authoritarian states), the results were quite different for those Principles framed in more flexible, open-ended terms: For those provisions, implementation generally did not improve, and in authoritarian states adherence to those Principles articulated in flexible language sometimes actually worsened. Linos and Pegram speculate, plausibly in my view, that states responded strategically to the Paris Principles, redirecting their efforts toward tasks that were specified in firm, precise, unconditional language (where there would be less room for dispute about compliance), and away from the more amorphous, open-ended tasks.

Linos and Pegram’s paper is clever, in part because they have found (or believe they have found) a clever way around an inferential problem that ordinarily bedevils efforts to assess the impact of international agreements on state behavior. Their results, insofar as we believe that they are valid, may have important implications for how we think about attempts to emulate the approach to international assessment of NHRIs for ACAs. Let me say a few words about each. Continue reading