Vienna, 8 November 2017
Juanita Olaya, Chair, UNCAC Coalition
Honourable Mr Vice President and honourable delegates, dear civil society colleagues,
Time and again we feel as if we are at a critical juncture in history, collectively choosing between one path and another. But, what is distinctive about our time – I think – is that we all seem to be so keenly aware of it.
We’re living through an age of disruption: with growing inequality, extremism and violence, with the rise of populism right and left, with unprecedented natural catastrophes, and the impending threats of climate change, with mounting cynicism and double standards; all adding up to increasing social discomfort.
Across the world we have seen protests erupt almost every week, and while the issues that rally people are many and varied without a doubt the spectre of corruption weighs heavily on most.
And yet, civil society efforts to collaborate and participate in activities to combat corruption are becoming ever more difficult and dangerous.
At the “soft” end we have seen the quiet suffocation of dissent with restrictions on our freedoms of expression and assembly.
Even here at the UN civil society struggles to find space for its voice. It is excluded from the UNCAC Implementation Review Group meetings and CoSP subsidiary bodies: a practice that is in contrast to other UN bodies and utterly contrary to the letter and the spirit of the UNCAC itself.
UN regulations prohibit civil society from mentioning specific countries, whether to praise them or to raise concerns, and its documents are filtered and controlled before submission.
CSOs can be excluded from participating in the CoSP without knowing the grounds, who has objected or even having access to an appeals mechanism.
How can this suppression of civil society voices possibly be justified at the home of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? How does this help us to achieve constructive dialogue?
At the “sharp” end we have witnessed crackdowns on our activity – including threats and intimidation, police raids and arrests on spurious grounds and journalists and activists losing their lives for exposing wrongdoing.
No, corruption is not a victimless crime.
Its victims include the institutions that protect us.
And, individuals and communities are directly harmed. When resources are stolen or diverted from the public purse, essential services suffer and people who are entitled to healthcare, education and social security go without.
This has to stop!
We are in a position here at this conference to make a difference if we work together.
As we discuss prevention, asset recovery and law enforcement let’s not forget the victims. This is essential if we are to make progress towards actual instances of redress, and openly share knowledge and experience of both in and out of court proceedings around the world.
Far too often, even when the proceeds of crime are frozen and confiscated, even after the long and protracted cases are won, the real victims continue to bear the consequences of corruption. They are rarely considered, rarely represented, and are rarely even aware that such confiscations are taking place.
In February this year, we made strong recommendations on asset recovery at the International Expert Meeting in Addis Ababa.
We recommended that returned assets are managed transparently and that civil society in both receiving and returning countries are involved in the return process. We also highlighted the need for returned assets to be used to remedy the harm their theft has caused. This must be done in line with the Sustainable Development Goals – commitments we know are essential for ensuring a fairer, more equal and corruption-free world.
One of our greatest chances for ensuring progress can be found in an open and accountable UNCAC Review Mechanism: an opportunity for real self-examination, outreach and partnership building with other actors.
Nineteen countries have signed our Pledge for transparency and civil society participation in the review mechanism. We wholeheartedly welcome the new ones and hope they will be joined by many more.
This week, we will be making concrete recommendations for tangible access to information practices and for transparent, open and accountable public procurement and public finance.
We must remember that our important work demonstrates the essential partnership between state and civil society for meaningful, accountable and effective anti-corruption work.
Civil society is a strength, a resource and a fundamental oversight mechanism for UNCAC implementation. Embracing it will make you stronger.