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Corruption and human rights

OHCHR and good governance

Corruption has a destructive effect on State institutions and on the capacity of States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights particularly of those persons and groups in situation of vulnerability and marginalization.

Corruption and associated illicit financial flows pose a major challenge to many societies as they divert public revenues and cripple public budgets that should provide healthcare, housing, education, and other essential services, they undermine States’ ability to meet their minimum core obligations and their pre-existing legal obligations to maximize all available resources to respect, protect and fulfil Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR). Moreover, it undermines the functioning and legitimacy of institutions and processes, the rule of law and ultimately the State itself.

International human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, have paid increasing attention to the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights and made numerous recommendations to Member States with the aim to prevent and suppress corruption.

In the Political Declaration adopted at the 2021 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly Against Corruption titled "Our common commitment to effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation" Member States expressed concern “about the negative impact that all forms of corruption, including the solicitation of undue advantages, can have on access to basic services and the enjoyment of all human rights, and recognize that it can exacerbate poverty and inequality and may disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged individuals in society”, and pledged “to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation in a manner consistent with our obligations with regard to and respect for all human rights, justice, democracy and the rule of law at all levels”.

Who does corruption affect?

Corruption exists in all countries, irrespective of the economic or political system and their level of development, in the public and private spheres. It is a transnational phenomenon requiring international cooperation, including in the recovery of the proceeds of corruption.

Corruption is not a victimless crime. Disadvantaged groups and persons suffer disproportionately from corruption. Due to pre-existing inequalities and intersectional discrimination, corruption has a disproportionate impact on women, children, migrants, persons with disabilities and persons living in poverty as they are often more reliant on public goods and services and have limited means to look for alternative private services. They also typically have fewer opportunities to participate in the design and implementation of public policies and programmes and lack the resources to seek accountability and reparations.

In addition, those involved in efforts to investigate, report, prosecute and try corruption are at heightened risk of human rights violations and require effective protection.

Approach to corruption and human rights

OHCHR undertakes corruption and human rights through two complementary workstreams:

  1. Ensuring that anti-corruption efforts and responses are consistent with human rights obligations and have a victim-centred approach; and
  2. Investigating the negative impacts of corruption on human rights, with a focus on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, with an approach that includes prevention, effective administration of justice and redress for the victims of human rights violations caused by corruption related offences and anti-corruption responses.

Anti-corruption and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The United Nations Common position to address global corruption indicates that anti-corruption, rooted in SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Effective Institutions), is an enabler of the 2030 Agenda and an accelerator to the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals.