Civil Society to the CoSP: Corruption Victims Are Entitled to Compensation

The Council of State Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the governments of the now 188 nations that have ratified the Convention, meets this week to review its implementation.  

When it comes to prosecuting bribery, embezzlement, and other corruption crimes, progress has been made. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reports that “[i]n a considerable number of countries, legislative amendments and structural reforms have produced coherent and largely harmonized criminalization regimes, tangible results in terms of enforcement capabilities and action.”

But the Convention’s “enforcement capabilities and action” extend beyond criminal prosecution.  Article 35 requires state parties to ensure those injured “as a result of an act of corruption” can enforce a claim for damages against the perpetrators.

Here little progress has been made.  The UNODC, Transparency International, academics (here and here), and this writer have all found that few corruption victims have recovered damages. 

The UNCAC Coalition, a global network of over 350 civil society organizations in 100 plus countries, urges the CoSP to address this gap in implementation.  In a formal submission, the coalition offers a series of recommendations to see that victims, either individually or through a class or representative action, can recover full compensation for the harm caused by corruption. It’s timely and important submission is here.

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

Civil Society on Returning Stolen Assets to Highly Corrupt Governments


The return of the proceeds of corruption to the victim country is a “fundamental principle” of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  How that return is to be realized, however, remains subject to dispute, particularly when the victim country’s government is highly corrupt.  Should governments where the stolen assets are discovered send them back no matter how corrupt the victim country’s government is?  Wouldn’t the return to a highly corrupt government frustrate the Convention’s most basic purpose — the prevention of corruption.

How to resolve this tension has been the subject of vigorous debate on this blog (hereherehereherehere and here).  Now some 50 members of the UNCAC Coalition’s Civil Society Working Group on Accountable Asset Return, from both countries where stolen assets have been found and those where return has been requested or realized, have weighed in.  In a February 14 letter to an UNCAC conference on asset recovery (addis-ababa-conf-agenda-february-2017-updated-02-02-2017), they write that where the victim country’s government is highly corrupt, it should be bypassed: “returning and receiving countries should in consultation with a broad spectrum of relevant experts and non-state actors find alternative means of managing the stolen assets” (emphasis in original).  The letter offers powerful arguments in support of its position.  The full text and the list of signers follows.  Continue reading

More on the Tension between Analysis and Advocacy for Anticorruption Academics

A couple weeks back I posted some brief reflections that  alluded to the possibility of the tension,  between academics and advocates. I asserted this tension was something I’d observed, but I didn’t give any specific examples. Partly because of that weakness in the original post, I thought I’d follow up on this topic, using a concrete example of the tension I had in mind.

That example is drawn from a debate I’ve engaged in elsewhere on this blog with Maud Perdriel-Vaissiere, an advisor to the UNCAC Coalition. In brief, the substantive issue that she and I (and others) have been arguing about is the extent to which the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) obligates law enforcement agencies that recover judgments or settlements against bribe-paying firms to share those proceeds with the governments of the countries where the bribes were paid. I won’t go into all the details here. (For those who are interested, some of my earlier posts on the topic can be found here and here, and other contributors to this blog have discussed related issues here, here, here, and here.) In my most recent post on the subject, I specifically criticized Ms. Perdriel-Vaissiere’s discussion of the issue in a post she published on the UNCAC Coalition’s blog. Among other criticisms, I accused Ms. Perdriel-Vaissiere of failing to make basic distinctions between different types of legal recovery, of failing to acknowledge their different treatment under UNCAC, and of citing misleading statistics that conflated these different forms of recovery. I described the legal analysis in the post as “sloppy” and concluded with some harsh words: “The anticorruption community can and should do better.”

Ms. Perdriel-Vaissiere submitted a lengthy, detailed, and thoughtful rebuttal, which you can read in the comments section for the original post. Much of her response focuses on substantive matters where she and I respectfully disagree, and I leave it to interested readers to make their own determinations on those issues. But part of her reply caught my attention because it so nicely illustrates, in a much more concrete form, the “analyst vs. advocate tension” I alluded to generally in my post on the role of academics. Here’s what Ms. Perdriel-Vaissiere has to say in my response to my criticism that she cites misleading statistics that don’t take into account the differences between distinct forms of recovery: Continue reading

UNCAC Does Not Require Sharing of Foreign Bribery Settlement Monies with Host Countries

Maud Perdriel-Vaissiere, the Advisor on Asset Recovery for the UNCAC Coalition (a global civil society network committed to promoting compliance with the UN Convention Against Corruption) recently published a post on the UNCAC Coaltion blog entitled, “Is there an obligation under the UNCAC to share foreign bribery settlement monies with host countries?” Her answer is yes. Indeed, she says that the contrary position is based on a “gross misreading” of UNCAC, that UNCAC’s asset recovery provisions (in Chapter V) apply even to “stolen or embezzled funds over which foreign governments cannot establish prior ownership” (emphasis hers), and that there is “no doubt [that] there is an obligation under the UNCAC [for supply-side enforcers] to share foreign bribery settlement monies with host countries!” (The exclamation mark is hers as well.)

As readers of this blog may be aware, I think this is wrong, based on a sloppy and tendentious misreading of the language of the treaty. Though I’ve written on this before, I think Ms. Perdriel-Vaissiere’s analysis deserves a rebuttal. Continue reading