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Opening statement of M.F. Ize Charrin, Director Operations, Programmes & Research Division, OHCHR, to the United Nations Conference on Corruption, Good Governance and Human Rights, Warsaw, 8 – 9 November 2006

Warsaw, 8 November 2006

Madam Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, at the outset, to thank the Government of the Republic of Poland for its kind offer to host this conference and for the warm welcome extended to the participants of this important meeting. I would like to thank the Government of Australia for its financial contribution and also refer to the five co-sponsors of the resolution of the Commission on Human Rights who asked the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize this conference. The co-sponsors are: Australia, Chile, Poland, South Africa and South Korea. Last, but not least, the logistical support of UNDP Country Office in Poland was indispensable in organizing this conference and in ensuring the participation of representatives from the least developed countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since 2001, the Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on the role of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights. Two years ago, pursuant to a resolution of the Commission on Human Rights, our office together with UNDP organized a Seminar on Good Governance Practices for the Promotion of Human Rights in Seoul. The conclusions of that Seminar emphasized the mutually reinforcing, and sometimes overlapping, relationship between good governance and human rights. Furthermore, it was concluded that human rights and good governance are affected by corruption on the one hand and can contribute to the fight against corruption on the other.

Following that seminar, the Commission on Human Rights requested that our office publish a selection of practices arising from the seminar and “convene a seminar […] on the role of anti-corruption measures at the national and international levels in good governance practices for the promotion and protection of human rights.” I am glad to report that the selection of practices emanating from Seoul seminar as requested by the Commission on Human Rights is finalized and will be published in the near future. It is in fulfilment of the second request of the Commission on Human Rights under resolution 2005/68 that you, distinguished group of experts, anti-corruption and human rights practitioners, public officials, civil society and private sector actors have come together today in Warsaw.

Allow me to underline the vital role of other United Nations agencies, that are dealing with good governance and anti-corruption issues. The United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime lead the United Nations efforts in the fields of good governance and anti-corruption respectively. Furthermore, several other inter-governmental organizations, including the World Bank and other development banks as well as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and non-governmental organizations, prominent among them Transparency International, have been particularly active in the field of anti-corruption. The World Bank has come to the realization that corruption is the largest barrier to development and is using its influence and expertise to tackle the issue at country level and in its projects. Transparency International, among others by releasing the annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI)—the latest of which was released two days ago—and other NGOs have been essential in bringing corruption to the international agenda and have provided citizens with an opportunity to claim their rights.

Any discussion of recent international anti-corruption efforts will not be complete without a reference to the United Nations Convention against Corruption which is now signed by 140 Member States and ratified by 70. Even though the Convention does not directly refer to human rights it includes several references to rule of law. There can be no rule of law without protection of human rights.

This Conference, however, does not tackle solely the question of corruption; our focus as requested by the Commission is specifically on corruption and human rights. The main objective of the conference is to identify concrete ways in which governance efforts to fight corruption are assisted by and contribute to human rights protection. The conference will build on the increasing awareness within the international community about the detrimental impact of widespread corruption on human rights both through the weakening of institutions and the erosion of public trust in government as well as through impairing the ability of governments to fulfil human rights, particularly the economic and social rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized. Furthermore, the Conference would also address the abuses and derogations to human rights made in the name of the fight against corruption.

To achieve its objective the discussion during this conference is organized under three themes:

1- Impact of corruption on human rights

Examples of corrupt practices and corruption cases abound. All too often, what an astute observer and a human rights practitioner can see behind each instance of corruption is a violation of human rights. Money which is stolen from a public project, bribery in the education and healthcare system, a case of corruption in the judiciary, etc., all lead to violations of human rights, in some instances on a massive scale. Equal treatment and equality before the law and non-discrimination are very important tenets of human rights instruments, and corruption effectively undermines these principles.

Several Special Rapporteurs of the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights, now the Human Rights Council, have identified corruption as an impediment to realization of, among others, the right to health, education, access to justice, right to fair trial and freedom of expression. In each of these cases fighting corruption will create an environment which is conducive for the full enjoyment of human rights. On a side note allow me to also put emphasis on the importance of dealing with corruption within international organizations and in projects implemented by international organizations that can also lead to violations of human rights.

2- How human rights principles and approaches can help in fighting corruption

In comparison with the human rights movement, the international anti-corruption movement is relatively young. For decades the word “corruption” was not uttered at international organizations. Addressing corruption was seen as an improper intrusion into domestic affairs of sovereign states and foreign bribery was a tax-deductible expense for companies in certain developed countries. That is no longer the case. Within a decade the international anti-corruption movement has come a long way. The anti-corruption movement can benefit from the experiences of the human rights movement and in turn promote human rights by removing some impediments to realization of the rights. Just as is the case of rights-based development and poverty reduction strategies, anti-corruption work should rely on principles of empowerment, transparency, participation, accountability, non-discrimination and rule of law.

In relation to this broad theme, a panel will also focus on the role of non-state actors, particularly the civil society, the media and the private sector.

3- Fighting corruption while safeguarding human rights

Finally, anti-corruption measures should be compatible with human rights principles and should not lead to violation of the rights of those involved, including the perpetrators, witnesses, and whistleblowers. Right to privacy and due process are examples of rights that are especially vulnerable to violation in anti-corruption campaigns. Use of heavy-handed anti-corruption techniques or lack of proper procedures in administrative anti-corruption measures can lead to violation of human rights of subjects of investigations. Special mechanisms of the CHR have drawn attention to the risk of political abuse of anti-corruption campaigns.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope that during the discussions this conference will maintain a practical orientation and lead to practical and concrete recommendations that can benefit other Member States and can be conveyed to other fora dealing with questions of corruption and human rights.

Already next week, during a workshop at the biannual International Anti-Corruption Conference in Guatemala, OHCHR hopes to present a summary of discussions and conclusion arising from this conference. And next month the first Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption will convene in Jordan. That meeting will coincide with the international anti-corruption day and the international human rights day on 9 and 10 December respectively. This co-incidence perhaps calls for a direct reference to human rights in discussions during that conference!

Apart from examining the earlier-mentioned themes, this conference will also serve as a forum for interaction and dialogue between human rights and anti-corruption practitioners and between governmental and non-governmental actors in these fields

We are looking forward to lively discussions that would allow all participants to share their expertise and experiences . I invite you all to take advantage of this opportunity, and wish you a successful conference