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The Human Rights Case Against Corruption

27 March 2013


“Corruption kills. The money stolen through corruption every year is enough to feed the world’s hungry 80 times over. Nearly 870 million people go to bed hungry every night, many of them children”, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, at a panel discussion on the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights.

“Corruption is an enormous obstacle to the realization of all human rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development. Corruption violates the core human rights principles of transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and meaningful participation in every aspect of life of the community. Conversely, these principles, when upheld and implemented, are the most effective means to fight corruption”, Pillay declared.

“A human rights-based approach to anti-corruption responds to the people’s resounding call for a social, political and economic order that delivers on the promises of freedom from fear and want,” said Pillay, adding that efforts to combat corruption would be most effective when coupled with an approach that respects all human rights, including those of the accused.

Pillay reminded participants that, “from 2000 to 2009 developing countries lost US$8.44 trillion to illicit financial flows, 10 times more than the foreign aid they received”. “The impact of corruption on development and on human rights is multifaceted; so too must be our response”, concluded Pillay.

The poor as well as vulnerable groups—such as women, children, people with disabilities or minorities—are the first ones hit by corruption when bribery and abuse denies them access to basic services, health, education, and land, stressed all seven panelists who represented UN agencies—specialized in human rights, anti-corruption and development—governmental institutions, as well as international and civil society organizations.

Panelists underlined the interconnectivity between combatting corruption, safeguarding human rights, and promoting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and asked for stronger political will at international and national levels to improve transparency and accountability for all acts of corruption. Phil Matsheya, Global Advisor for Anti-Corruption of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), asked to prioritize the fight against corruption, which was a main impediment to the protection of human rights and, in particular, the right to development.

Several panelists emphasized that anti-corruption laws were not sufficient without effective implementation measures, and asked States to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and intensify efforts to prosecute cases of corruption. States should train judges, prosecutors, the police and other law enforcement agencies on the strict application of anti-corruption laws and human rights, recommended Zdzislaw Kedzia from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Abdeslam Aboudrar, President of the Central Instance for the Prevention of Corruption of Morocco, suggested to carry-out risk-mapping evaluations in all sectors, as part of national anti-corruption strategies.

The need to protect of victims of corruption, persons reporting crimes of corruption and experts dealing with such crimes, as well as the right to a fair trial for alleged perpetrators of corruption crimes, was brought up by Claudia Segayo of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and several other panelists. Suzanne Hayden of the International Anti-Corruption Academy spoke about the key role played by investigative journalists in uncovering cases of corruption, the risks they were taking, and asked that they be better protected.

Marling Haydee Rodriguez-Cerro, President of the Union of Women´s Producer Cooperatives Las Brumas in Nicaragua, asked that measures be taken to empower victims to claim their rights, which would include providing legal advice and trainings opportunities at grassroots level. She also recognized, with Sangeetha Pursuhottam, Executive Director of the Best Practices Foundation in India, the crucial role played by the civil society, including grassroots women´s organizations, in fighting corruption and improving good governance at local level.

The panel was organized by the UN Human Rights Office on 13 March 2013, during the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council. It was chaired by the President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz A. Henczel, and moderated by Miklos Marschall, Deputy Managing Director of Transparency International, an non-governmental organization fighting corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and integrity

27 March 2013