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Statement by the OHCHR, Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Prevention of Corruption

Vienna, Austria, 14 December 2010

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would like to thank the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for inviting us to attend as observer this inaugural session of the open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the Prevention of Corruption. Our intervention will concern agenda item 2 (c) “Collection, dissemination and promotion of best practices in the prevention of corruption”.

Member States in the United Nations Human Rights fora have addressed the issue of good governance as well as corruption and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights since the year 2000. The intergovernmental human rights policy- and decision- making body – the Commission on Human Rights replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council – adopted seven resolutions in which Member States affirmed the mutually reinforcing relationship between good governance, effective anti-corruption measures and the protection of human rights.

The Council, in its resolution 7/11 adopted in 2008, has recognized the increasing awareness in the international community of the detrimental impact of widespread corruption on human rights, including through the weakening of institutions and the erosion of public trust in government, as well as the impairment of the ability of Governments to fulfill their human rights obligations, particularly the economic and social rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized.

We have heard yesterday and today several speakers referring to the adverse effects of corruption on the provision and quality of public services, poverty elimination, development, as well as security and stability. What is not mentioned so far is the negative impact of corruption on human rights. Corruption impedes the realization of all human rights in multiple ways. Several United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms addressed corruption in all its aspects in the context of their respective mandates. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors the compliance by State Parties with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recommended a number of concrete anti-corruption measures in its concluding observations following the examination of state party reports. Most of the recommendations relate to the prevention of corruption through policy, legal and institutional reforms, as well as training and capacity-building of the law enforcement officers, the police, and the judiciary and public officials. The Sub-Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights – an expert subsidiary body of the former Commission on Human Rights – appointed a Special Rapporteur who, for the period of 2002 to 2006, provided four research and study papers examining the issue of corruption and its impact on the full enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights.

Special procedures of the Human Rights Council such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations, the Special Rapporteurs on the freedom of opinion and expression, on the right to health, on the independence of judges and lawyers, on human rights and toxic waste, and on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, as well as the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, all found corruption violating these specific human rights. Corruption disproportionately affects women due to, among other factors, their over-representation among the poor and under-representation in decision-making.

In 2008, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, presented to the Human Rights Council a framework entitled “Protect, Respect and Remedy” with the view to clarifying the role of the private sector in the promotion and protection of human rights including through fighting corruption. The Human Rights Council unanimously welcomed what is now referred to as the UN Framework, marking the first time that a United Nations intergovernmental body had taken a substantive policy position on the issue of business and human rights. Led by Norway as the main sponsor of the resolution on this mandate, with co-sponsors Argentina, India, Nigeria and Russia - one country from each United Nations regional group, the Council requested the Special Representative to develop concrete and practical recommendations for promoting and operationalizing the UN Framework. Consequently, the Special Representative, with the support of the OHCHR, developed and made available on the Internet for comments, the draft Guiding Principles which he intends to present to the Council in 2011.

Mr. Chairperson,

The Human Rights Council has identified the prevention of corruption as one of the key principles of anti-corruption efforts along with other principles, namely equality and non-discrimination, participation and transparency, accountability and responsibility, as well as enforcement. Both human rights and good governance including anti-corruption share these core principles.

Through human rights resolutions, Member States repeatedly stressed that a transparent, responsible, accountable and participatory government, responsive to the needs and aspirations of the peoples including members of vulnerable and marginalized groups and women, is the foundation on which good governance rests. Such a foundation is an indispensable condition for the full realization of human rights, including the right to development. The fight against corruption plays an important role not only in the promotion and protection of human rights but also in the process of creating and maintaining an environment conducive to sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, as well as an enabling environment for full enjoyment of all human rights. In this context, the prevention of corruption at all levels is a crucial element in the fight against corruption as emphasized by many speakers in this forum.

Mr. Chairperson,

At the request of Member States, the OHCHR organized, in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Korea and the United Nations Development Programme, an international seminar on “good governance practices for the promotion of human rights” in Seoul in September 2004. Drawing on the outcome of the seminar, the Office produced a publication presenting 21 case studies of governance reforms including in the area of combating corruption. This publication is available for consultation on the website of the Office.

The OHCHR organized the second United Nations Conference on anti-corruption measures, good governance and human rights, in cooperation with the Government of Poland and with the financial support of the Government of Australia, in Warsaw in November 2006. The Conference focused on four thematic areas: 1) the impact of corruption on human rights; 2) how human rights and good governance principles can help in fighting corruption; 3) the role of civil society, the private sector and the media; and 4) fighting corruption while safeguarding human rights. The Conference also discussed best practices in improving and strengthening anti-corruption efforts, which included developing better data and indicators; involving all sectors of society, not just governments; improving and expanding international collaboration to address the supply side of corruption, to support asset recovery and the implementation of judgments; providing technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of State agencies and institutions and the private sector to carry out anti-corruption work in a manner that is consistent with human rights; and developing new rules and clearer guidelines to inform efforts to curb corruption while protecting human rights.

The Human Rights Council has requested the High Commissioner’s Office to prepare a publication on anti-corruption, good governance and human rights, drawing on the results of the Warsaw Conference. We are in the process of developing this publication which will serve as a tool for guidance and best practices for use by our field presences in 55 countries at present. We look forward to closer collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in order to ensure that this publication also serves to assist Member States in their efforts to prevent corruption.

Also, the OHCHR and UNODC can work together with the view to assisting Member States in developing indicators to assess the needs and progress in capacity-building in the prevention of corruption. What is measured can be implemented; hence better data and indicators are part of best practices. Recognizing that data, its collection and assembly is essential in realizing human rights, and in conformity with the principles establishing the UN Human Rights Council, including universality, objectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation, our Office has developed a conceptual and methodological framework for human rights indicators through a series of expert consultations involving representatives from various organizations, including government agencies, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations. The framework recommends the development of structural, process and outcome indicators. The structural indicators demonstrate commitments; the process indicators spell out efforts to translate the commitments in practice, while the outcome indicators show the results of the efforts. High Commissioner Navi Pillay has noted that the indicators framework developed by her Office “is not intended as a tool for ranking the level of implementation by Member States. It is this distinguishing, non-competitive ranking character that has made OHCHR’s indicators highly attractive as an enabling tool.” An increasing number of countries including Mexico, Kenya, Brazil, Nepal and Ecuador as well as other stakeholders such as national human rights institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations, benefitted from the support of the OHCHR in developing and building human rights into new and existing judicial and legislative systems, policies and programs. In this area, we also share our experiences with institutions based in the UK and Norway, as well as the Council of Europe and the World Bank.

Mr. Chairperson,

In establishing the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993, the General Assembly in its resolution 48/141 provided the High Commissioner with a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights. One of the principle priorities of the High Commissioner’s Office is the integration of human rights including the right to development into all areas of the work of the UN system. Furthermore, the Human Rights Council in its resolution 7/11 mentioned above, has recognized that “the promotion and protection of human rights is essential to the fulfillment of all aspects of an anti-corruption strategy”. Within this mandate and the framework of the UN Convention against Corruption, the OHCHR stands ready to assist interested and requesting Member States in the prevention of corruption from human rights perspective, including through necessary support to the work of this Working Group as well as through strengthened partnership with the UNODC.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairperson, I would like to submit that the UN Convention against Corruption has no explicit reference to human rights, yet as you note from the above, the passing decade has witnessed a major commitment and tremendous efforts by Member States and UN human rights machinery in addressing corruption from human rights perspective. Much of these undertakings are of direct relevance and therefore would contribute to the effective implementation of many provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption. We therefore hope that this important Working Group will take the lead by acknowledging the importance of human rights and their integration in corruption prevention efforts at all levels. The OHCHR will look forward to your guidance and recommendations for future course of action aimed at strengthened partnership between the OHCHR and UNODC in the prevention of corruption.

The idea of human rights is as simple as it is powerful: treating people with dignity. On this note I would like to conclude my intervention, and on behalf of the High Commissioner and her Office, I would like to wish every success to the outcome of this important Working Group.

Thank you for your attention.