10 February 2022 –
The plenary discussions during the 9th Session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provided an important opportunity for non-governmental stakeholders to learn about States Parties’ domestic actions to implement the UNCAC, as well as to hear their views on different anti-corruption issues.
The following summary provides a ‘snapshot’ of countries’ plenary statements, highlighting new commitments, updates about the status of country reviews, and important views that were expressed in line with the UNCAC Coalition’s issues of priority. A specific focus was put on the discussions that revolved around Turkey’s objection to the CoSP-participation of eight CSOs.
The CoSP plenary is the only formal UNCAC forum for civil society to engage with all States Parties, as civil society representatives are not allowed to participate in the meetings of the CoSP subsidiary bodies, including those of the UNCAC implementation review group (IRM).
- This is not a comprehensive overview of all the plenary discussions and country statements! We have focused on highlighting interventions that are related to key issues of interest to civil society.
- Generally, we have tried to list interventions chronologically, in the order they took place in the Plenary (except for updates on country reviews which are in alphabetical order or where we have put government interventions focused on similar issues together).
- We have done our best to accurately capture government interventions but it is important to take into account that in some cases there were challenges due to audio problems.
Plenary opening session: The general discussion
- Many delegations provided updates to the plenary on efforts to strengthen their anti-corruption regimes and highlight how they engage civil society in these efforts. Delegations highlighted the important contributions of civil society, the media, including investigative journalists and other stakeholders, in efforts to fight corruption and the need to ensure that they have the freedom to participate in anti-corruption efforts.
- Many delegations updated the CoSP about progress made in carrying out their 2nd country reviews and efforts to engage civil society in these efforts:
- Austria – preparing for the country visit to take place in March 2022;
- Cuba – has concluded the two review processes, including country visits;
- Honduras – on-site visit for 2nd cycle review scheduled in February 2022;
- Israel – undergoing the second review and is relying on the cooperation of CSOs and others;
- Lebanon – working to include CSO input to the self-assessment checklist, who have made valuable contributions;
- Mali – the 1st cycle country review led them to amend their criminal code;
- Nepal – 2nd cycle review planned for January 2022;
- Oman – has revised the draft self-assessment checklist and submitted it to the Gulf Cooperation Council;
- South Africa – published the full country report for 2nd cycle;
- Zambia – submitted the self-assessment checklist to UNODC;
- Some delegations expressed support for strengthening the Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM), including publishing country review reports and engaging civil society in the country review process. (Austria, Finland, Latin American and Caribbean Group, and Qatar);
- The Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) cited the UN High Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI) report and the need to implement and strengthen the efficiency of the IRM;
- The Asia Pacific Group called for avoiding delays with the IRM and invited countries to expedite the review process;
- The African Group informed the conference that 11 July is African Anti-Corruption Day (commemorating the adoption of the African Anti-Corruption resolution) and highlighted the importance of enhancing access and use of beneficial ownership information to advance asset recovery and advancing UNCAC implementation at the regional level;
- The Arab Group and Asia Pacific Group welcomed the UNGASS political declaration and called for its implementation;
- European Union, Romania, and Slovakia expressed support for the important role of civil society in the fight against corruption and raised concerns about the objections made by one States Party against the participation of 8 NGOs in the 9th CoSP;
- Nigeria and Pakistan expressed their commitment to beneficial ownership transparency and called for States Parties to support their draft resolution to enhance access and use of this information to promote the recovery and return of the proceeds of crime;
- Egypt announced the establishment of the first national academy to fight against corruption in the region and stated its commitment to follow up on UNGASS 2021 commitments through its draft declaration of Sharm El-Sheikh;
- Indonesia highlighted the rights of the victims of corruption in the context of international cooperation and informed that it will chair the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in 2022;
- The United Kingdom announced that it published asset recovery statistics for the first time and aims for beneficial ownership transparency to be a global norm by 2023.
Discussion on the objection to the participation of 8 NGOs in the 9th CoSP
- The European Union highlighted the key role that NGOs play in the fight against corruption and the principles of inclusivity and transparency that are the core of the conference. The European Union stated that it always supported the wide participation of NGOs in the UNCAC and is concerned that this is being undermined by some States Parties – a worrying pattern that goes against the Convention’s spirit;
- The United States expressed its regret that these objections have been submitted to the Bureau without adequate reasoning and objected to excluding stakeholders who have added value to the CoSP. It committed to taking measures to protect stakeholders and expresses concerns that States Parties are using political objectives that go beyond the scope of the Convention. The delegation pointed out that there was no real reasoning behind the objections or no standard of proof that the NGOs had acted in bad faith. None of these NGOs are registered in the country that is objecting. The United States appealed for the objections to be withdrawn and for the conference to proceed in the spirit of transparency, and if not then asked for a decision to be deferred to the next CoSP;
- China stated that it didn’t oppose any NGO from taking part in the session but when a State Party had concerns, it should be treated with importance. It also highlighted the need to look for a long-term solution to address objections to NGO participation, therefore supporting the CoSP President’s proposal to continue discussions to find a long-term solution;
- Italy supported the European Union statement, stating that no evidence was provided to substantiate the allegations against an Italian NGO, which would have given good representation to the CoSP;
- The United Kingdom associated itself with the European Union’s statement and stated that it was deeply disappointed to be having this discussion at this forum. NGOs and the media play an essential role in these discussions. It appeared that a small number of Member States were trying to undermine these discussions and the blocking of NGO accreditation is part of this pattern;
- Pakistan welcomed the suggestion by the Bureau to develop a mechanism for dealing with the objections to NGO’s participation, stating that it believed there is a need for a comprehensive mechanism to address this issue once and for all and to address this at the earliest point possible;
- Australia highlighted the invaluable role that civil society, including NGOs, media, and the private sector, plays in helping combat corruption and its longstanding support of their involvement, stating that CSOs are an important source of accountability to serve the needs of our people. Australia called for the broadest possible participation of civil society, regrets the objections, and encouraged the CoSP to find meaningful ways to engage civil society;
- Romania highlighted that civil society is important for effectively fighting corruption and expresses concerns that an internationally-recognized NGO has been accused of these allegations;
- The United States responded that the rules of procedure give the Secretariat discretion to decide what ‘sufficient information’ is. This mechanism that the Bureau has recommended establishing will facilitate in deciding what is sufficient information (on non-ECOSOC NGOs, when deciding whether to accredit them CoSP) observer status;
- Turkey stated that it was not against the participation of NGOs in general but that it could not accept that the objections it had raised were unfounded. The rules of procedure on NGO participation were very clear and while it was necessary to have some discussion on the issue, the rules of procedure should not be changed;
- Russia expressed its disagreement with the proposal for establishing a mechanism, raising that there is a procedure in place and the state party objecting does not have to justify or prove its objection;
- European Union stated that it fully supported the joint statement made by the Ambassador of Slovenia on behalf of 41 States Parties and that it has always supported the widest participation of NGOs in UNCAC and its fora. It expressed concern that Turkey upholding its objections would set a dangerous precedent, given that none of the objected NGOs were based in Turkey and believes that it would be very useful to establish a mechanism to better address objections;
- France stated that it supports the declaration made on behalf of 41 States and its deep concern that NGOs have been prevented from participating in the 9th CoSP. Not allowing civil society and NGOs to participate was becoming a trend that should be stopped. A transparent process was essential for the credibility of the conference. NGOs make important contributions and have expertise and their non-participation would harm the effective implementation of the UNCAC;
- Iran opposed creating any new mechanism or changing the rules of procedure, stating that it is a sovereign issue and they were not in a position to judge which perspectives are wrong. In its second intervention, Iran stated its belief that the meaning of “sufficient information” has been misinterpreted, it should be on the relevance and mandate of NGOs and not on providing reasons for States’ objections;
- Austria, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia and Spain expressed full support for the statements made by the European Union, Slovenia, and other States Parties. Their interventions recognized the crucial role of NGOs in the fight against corruption and in the UNCAC and the need for the broadest possible participation of NGOs;
- Canada expressed its support for the statements made by the European Union and Slovenia, highlighting that excluding NGOs can only weaken the Conference’s efforts. It lamented the fact that objections were made to an unprecedented number of NGOs to participate in the Conference. Canada supported the proposal of the Bureau to establish a mechanism to find clarity and avoid wasting time discussing this issue over and over again;
- Norway aligned itself with Slovenia’s statement and highlighted that effective anti-corruption depends upon a vibrant civil society, bringing corruption to the public eye, and advancing transparency and accountability. Civil society needs independence, access to information, protection, and the ability to participate. Civil society, academia, the private sector, and the media are essential to the UNCAC and essential in the follow-up of the UNGASS political declaration. Norway expressed concern about the objections of NGOs and asked for these objections not to be upheld. It supported the Bureau’s suggestion to establish a mechanism.
Discussion on the Implementation Review Mechanism
Several delegations updated the plenary on efforts they have made with their country reviews and follow-up:
- Armenia completed its review for the 2nd cycle and achieved results with implementation, including creating a beneficial ownership registry it plans to expand to all firms in the economy;
- Cuba set up a working group of oversight and supervisory institutions after 1st review cycle to deal with recommendations from the 1st cycle; the group is still operational and has exchanges with civil society and other stakeholders;
- Russia completed its second review and found that the quality of the review has gone up and was successful. It noted the lengthy time of its review process and the need to try to address shortcomings to address delays. It intends to implement all recommendations and publish the country report but will need to check with federal laws and states authorities before doing so;
- Venezuela had a virtual country visit in June 2020 and will soon release the executive summary and country report;
- The European Union highlighted the importance of on-site visits being a core feature of the IRM to give an accurate and realistic picture of anti-corruption efforts in the country as well as the extent of civil society engagement on the ground. The delegation called for beginning to shape the second phase on the mechanism’s future and raised that there is now a long interval of 10 years since the first review phase and the usefulness of the mechanism may come into question. Having a shorter cycle may help ensure that the assessment of needs is still accurate and relevant. The European Union highlights positive experiences with civil society involvement in the first phase and the need for the active engagement of civil society without restrictions and objections and to have civil society’s input and presence in the reviews and country visits;
- Colombia called for specific ideas and commitments to breathe new life into the mechanism, new incentives for the review mechanism, and the importance of monitoring and commitment to implementation. It called for avoiding duplication of reviews carried out by other mechanisms and for coordinating review calendars and schedules;
- Norway stated its belief that the IRM can be improved and supports making the self-assessment and online technical system easier to use. It proposed to limit the reviews to the “core issues of the UNCAC” and allow the country visit to be the place for detailed documents, including statistics, to be presented.
- United States highlighted the UNCAC Coalition’s “Transparency Pledge” with 30 States Parties that have signed up and urged states to fully disclose those reports and engage NGOs. It expressed concern that we are behind schedule with reviews and therefore can’t analyze what policies are necessary without finishing the full review process; urged the publishing of the status of all reviews; the first cycle should be finalized by next year. There should be 70% criteria for completion of the reviews and it is essential that this should be met as soon as possible;
- Mexico proposed to integrate the review with other mechanisms, to revise the current mechanism, and compile a good practice list for States Parties that are being reviewed;
- France stated that the timetable for a country review was no longer appropriate and should be longer, raising the lack of follow-up and the fact that the final report addresses older legislation but not newer legislation;
- China expressed strong support for the IRM and stated that it has provided support for 60 anti-corruption agencies in order to meet UNCAC obligations.
Discussion on technical assistance
- Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Colombia made interventions emphasizing the critical importance of technical assistance for effective UNCAC implementation and how it has helped their efforts to implement the UNCAC. They also highlighted the UNGASS political declaration’s recommendations relevant to technical assistance;
- Norway stated its support for helping developing countries in meeting the UNCAC obligations and raised that evaluations show that demand-driven technical assistance and long-term commitments deliver better results than ad-hoc capacity building or other ad-hoc efforts;
- The United States urged States Parties to follow up on technical assistance needs identified in country reviews and to publish the self-assessment questionnaires and full country reports for 1st and 2nd cycles. Publication of the reports will promote donor coordination and avoid duplication of technical assistance efforts;
- European Union announced a program providing €5 million to empower civil society to demand systematic change in anti-corruption efforts in 21 countries to help promote open government and enable country learning and information exchange;
- Honduras highlighted how it has requested technical assistance through the UNCAC Review Mechanism which has led to support from UNODC. The country review has helped them improve, informing their work and policies and they have involved different stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, and academia;
- Kuwait urged States Parties to publish all the reports for the review cycles, not just executive summaries. This would help UNODC and others with the provision of technical assistance.
Discussion on asset recovery
- Palestine stated that the Arab Group was committed to the UNGASS political declaration and the need to have coordination between various initiatives including StAR, the World Bank, and UNODC. It welcomed recommendations from the conference in Baghdad held in September and highlight the importance of non-conviction based means of asset recovery. It urged having other measures, including clear financial records, beneficial ownership disclosure, and promoting civil society in asset recovery efforts;
- Switzerland stated that it is committed to the confiscation of stolen assets and that the legal framework is sufficient and suitable for getting results, describing efforts to return assets to Peru that will contribute to anti-corruption efforts in the country;
- Indonesia and Algeria cited the differences in legal systems as one of the main challenges for asset recovery;
- France outlined how their laws work on asset recovery including having a type of confiscation where there is an illicit use without proof that there is a crime associated with it;
- Norway highlighted the challenge of very large amounts of money transferred by service providers to secrecy accounts and laundered and the need for service provider transparency to promote asset recovery. The delegation suggested consolidating different ideas to advance asset recovery including what should be the rules for non-conviction-based confiscation;
- Angola and Norway made interventions about the UNGASS political declaration’s commitments on asset recovery. Norway called for the Working Group on Asset Recovery to develop a work plan for UNGASS follow-up and made reference to paragraph 82 of the declaration on organizing a special session of the Conference on asset recovery. The delegation proposed developing a “systematic preparatory process” for this commitment. Angola called for focus on applying paragraph 40 of the UNGASS political declaration to adequately address requests on non-criminal proceedings;
- Russia stated that in many cases assets are not returned or requests are not responded to and there are loopholes in the legal framework and barriers in procedural matters. It raised that the UNGASS recognizes these obstacles and references holding a special session on asset recovery as outlined in the declaration;
- The United Kingdom formally announced that it is publishing the first framework for transparency and accountability in the return of assets. The framework is a set of guidelines and principles to ensure transparency, consistency, and accountability in how to return funds to other countries and includes engaging stakeholders in the process. The delegation called on other States Parties to follow suit and publish frameworks for asset recovery;
- The United States highlighted the importance of prevention so that assets aren’t stolen in the first place, ensuring transparency and accountability to restore public trust. It urged States Parties to advance practical measures, strengthen capacity, focus more on non-conviction-based forfeiture and promote the transparent and accountable return of assets. States Parties do not need to go beyond current commitments and a new protocol on asset recovery is not needed;
- Sri Lanka called for a reconsideration of the existing mechanism for recovering assets which should include criminal, civil, and non-conviction-based (NCB) procedures. Model law for asset recovery mechanisms and for NCB procedures should be developed and would be of great help to all countries;
- Several delegations called for more international cooperation, including with law enforcement and informal mutual legal assistance.
Discussion on international cooperation
- Several delegations called for strengthening international cooperation to combat corruption and several stating support for the Global Operational Network of Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobE);
- Namibia highlighted the lack of adequate legal frameworks that may paralyze international cooperation. It has amended legislation and taken other actions to ensure that it can cooperate better with other States Parties;
- Norway cited the Oslo Statement on Grand Corruption and the FACTI Panel Report that provide the inspiration to be bold in moving the anti-corruption agenda forward and to gather innovative ideas from a broad alliance to feed into the development of norms by international organizations;
- The United States highlighted the importance of informal cooperation including inquiries outside of mutual assistance.
Discussion on follow-up to the UNGASS
Many delegations gave general statements of support about the importance of the UNGASS political declaration and urged States Parties to follow up on commitments.
- Chile called for the implementation of paragraph 69 of the political declaration that focuses on women empowerment and gender concerns;
- Norway called for an effective follow-up process to be put in place and raises that some issues that are reflected in the political declaration are not addressed in the 9th CoSP resolutions, and therefore should be taken up by the subsidiary bodies; issues that are not in the mandate of these bodies should be discussed at the CoSP intersessional meeting on UNGASS follow-up;
- Colombia highlighted how the political declaration strengthens commitment to the highest levels and called for realizing its full potential and establishing synergies between the instruments we already have;
- Russia called for studying the legal loopholes to combat corruption and returning assets and including ways to strengthen the regime under the Convention;
- The United States recognized the UNGASS as one of the most significant multilateral achievements in decades, providing a clear roadmap and some groundbreaking commitments, including commitments to protect journalists and to develop a greater understanding of gender and corruption links. The delegation called for the CoSP to have the UNGASS follow-up as a feature on the agenda of the CoSP and emphasizes that non-governmental stakeholders including civil society must be part of the process. Civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders must have the resources, independence, and freedom to hold governments to account.