Civil society seeks stronger anti-corruption commitments from the countries gathered at the 6th UNCAC COSP

28 October 2015, by Gillian Dell.

What’s on the civil society agenda at the 6th UNCAC Conference of States Parties (COSP)? And what will be the UNCAC Coalition’s focus in St Petersburg?
Although we expect fewer civil society participants in St Petersburg compared to previous COSPs, we still plan a high level of engagement, as evidenced by the number of civil society written submissions and side-events.
To be sure, there will be plenty of meetings at the COSP that representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) cannot attend, unless they are part of a country delegation: the informal meetings to discuss the draft resolutions (none publicly available so far); the Committee of the Whole’s review of draft resolutions; the Expert Meeting on International Cooperation on 2-3 November; and the resumed Implementation Review Group (IRG) meeting on 3-4 November. All of these are closed to civil society representatives.
But there will also be opportunities for civil society to contribute to the discussions, in plenary sessions, in side events and in meetings with State Party delegations. Indeed, civil society already began significant engagement work ahead of the COSP.

What’s our focus for the 6th COSP?

The UNCAC Coalition’s statement Making the UNCAC Work, submitted to the Implementation Review Group meeting in June 2015, contains its positions on key topics on the COSP agenda, including on the Review Mechanism, the main subject of discussion at the 6th COSP.
To help advance on transparency and participation issues, which have been controversial to date, the UNCAC Coalition has developed a voluntary UNCAC Review Transparency Pledge and is calling on States Parties to endorse its six principles, including in their COSP plenary statements.
The UNCAC Coalition will emphasize the following six priority areas at the upcoming 6th COSP:

  • Grand corruption:States Parties should recognise that the crime grand corruption causes grave harm to human rights and development and requires international attention and action. They should adopt and reinforce measures to check grand corruption, including the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction for the prosecution of this serious crime and increased recognition of victims’ remedies. Transparency International has made a written submission to the COSP on this subject and is co-organising with GOPAC a session on grand corruption during the Forum for Parliamentarians on Thursday 5 November 2015. The UNCAC Coalition is also organising a side event on victim’s remedies on Thursday 5 November 2015.
  • Asset recovery:Progress with asset recovery efforts remains slow. The COSP should agree on steps to improve processes for the repatriation of the proceeds of corruption to the country from which they were taken or that suffered damage as a result of the commission of the underlying corruption offences. States Parties should also agree on steps to ensure transparency and accountability in the return of assets. The UNCAC Coalition has made a written submission to the COSP on this topic.
  • Beneficial ownership transparency:Companies, trusts and foundations whose ownership and/or control were hidden or concealed were identified as vehicles for enabling laundering of corruption proceeds in more than 70% of over 200 cases of grand corruption surveyed by the World Bank. Secret ownership also enables collusion, self-dealing or other deception in procurement, licensing and other government processes. It further serves as an obstacle to detection and investigation of corrupt transactions. States Parties should take serious action against this abuse of secret ownership. They should introduce central registers containing beneficial ownership information and make that information public.
  • Civil society participation in anti-corruption efforts:In light of restrictions on civil society anti-corruption activities in an increasing number of countries, the COSP should give renewed recognition to the importance of civil society participation in anti-corruption efforts and the need to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. Transparency International has made a written submission to the COSP on this subject and is lead organiser of a COSP side event on civil society participation on Wednesday 4 November 2015.
  • Review Mechanism:The first cycle of reviews is very advanced, with 110 reviews already completed (as of 28 October 2015). The COSP should establish a process of follow-up to the first cycle of reviews to ensure that attention is paid to the review recommendations. States Parties should also agree to proceed with the second cycle of the UNCAC review process, including country visits, civil society participation and the publication of key review information, including timetables, self-assessments and full country reports (47 full reports have been published on the UNODC website to date.). Adequate funding should be provided for the review mechanism and for technical assistance requirements identified by the reviews. Transparency International’s 2013 UNCAC Progress Report provides a detailed explanation of most of these points. The UNCAC Coalition is lead organiser of a COSP side event on this topic on Monday 2 November 2015.
  • Civil society observer status in COSP subsidiary bodies:Representatives of civil society organizations have been excluded from participating as observers in COSP subsidiary bodies such as the Implementation Review Group and the Working Groups on Prevention and Asset Recovery. A separate briefing for NGOs was provided as a substitute. The COSP should recognise that this practice of meeting in secrecy is counterproductive in terms of the objectives of the UNCAC and it should take steps to open up UNCAC meetings. This subject is covered in Transparency International’s written submission to the COSP on civil society participation.
    In addition, Coalition members will be conducting advocacy on other topics, such as on public procurement and climate change, both of which are the subjects of side events at the COSP.
    Corruption threatens to block achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Globalisation has created new challenges in tackling it. This is why it is so important that States Parties make significant advances in anti-corruption efforts at the upcoming COSP. Civil society will be contributing.

About Gillian Dell

Gillian Dell is Head of the Conventions Unit at the Transparency International Secretariat.