Improving Civil Society’s Capacity to Contribute to UNCAC Reviews

16 November 2023 –

To increase the chances of anti-corruption organizations’ input to be considered in UNCAC reviews, the UNCAC Coalition has been providing tailored training sessions to civil society organizations (CSOs) ahead of their respective country visits. Over the past few months, we have held trainings for CSOs from Spain, Canada, Serbia and the European Union. These training sessions on the UNCAC review process were not only for UNCAC Coalition members and affiliated groups, but addressed any interested organization working on anti-corruption-related topics.

In one-hour sessions, we explained the status of the review process in each case – most States Parties are undergoing the 2nd review cycle and are thus being evaluated on how they have implemented Chapter II on Prevention of Corruption and Chapter V on Asset Recovery, while the European Union is still undergoing the 1st review cycle encompassing UNCAC Chapter III on Law Enforcement and Chapter IV on International Cooperation. Besides sharing their UNCAC focal point’s contact information, which is oftentimes not publicly available, we discussed different ways in which they could meaningfully contribute to their UNCAC reviews, especially during and after the country visit. 

Depending on the country’s current state of affairs and the political windows of opportunity, we emphasized one or more of the tools elaborated by the UNCAC Coalition to improve transparency and participation on UNCAC reviews: 

In the training for Serbian CSOs, Transparency International Serbia, the organization that had drafted the parallel report on UNCAC implementation in Serbia shared its main findings and recommendations with the rest of civil society representatives. As a result of this training for Spanish CSOs, civil society organizations attending the training decided to launch a joint call to the government for more transparency and inclusiveness of the review, with the aim of also raising awareness among citizens about this process. In Canada, CSOs gained confidence in what they could bring to the UNCAC review process and renewed their call for the Canadian government to sign the Transparency Pledge and for the publication of the full country report once finalized. In the case of the European Union, the training helped CSOs shape their arguments and entry points for the meeting with governmental experts and subsequent written contributions. 

We will continue to offer such training sessions as we see how they result in civil society organizations connecting and feeling better equipped to participate in the UNCAC review process. The involvement of CSOs in UNCAC reviews, and anti-corruption efforts more broadly, is essential to hold governments to account and they should be considered crucial partners in the fight against corruption. 

Background information

Civil society organizations usually face UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) implementation reviews with a complete lack of information. In the best-case scenario, the UNCAC focal point, the public official in charge of coordinating UNCAC matters within the government, informs them that their country is being evaluated on its implementation of the UNCAC, and invites them to a meeting with the experts assigned to carry out said evaluation (also known as the “country visit”). Ideally, the invitation to this meeting is accompanied by information on the objectives of the review and a review schedule, an assessment previously filled out by the government, etc. However, this scenario is not very common. Most often, CSOs find out about the review at a late stage, are not invited to any meeting, or, if they are, they lack the most basic information to be able to effectively contribute to this process.

The so-called country visit is at the core of an UNCAC review process. Governmental experts from two other States Parties to the Convention, assisted by personnel of UNODC, travel to the State under review and hold several meetings with a range of institutions working on corruption prevention and law enforcement, to complement their desk assessment of how the country is implementing UNCAC provisions through legislative, institutional and policy reforms. In some exceptional cases, country visits have taken place virtually or at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna. 

The Terms of Reference of the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM) encourage States Parties to inform the public about the review and “to facilitate engagement with all relevant national stakeholders in the course of a country visit”, which means facilitating a meeting between the reviewers and non-state actors, including representatives from civil society, non-governmental and community-based organizations, private sector and academia. This encouragement is perfectly aligned with the Convention’s Article 13 which is a call to action for States to ensure the “participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector (…) in the prevention of and the fight against corruption”. This participation should be enabled by “enhancing the transparency of and promoting the contribution of the public to decision-making processes” and by “ensuring that the public has effective access to information”. But despite this clear call for civil society participation in UNCAC reviews, involving civil society organizations remains an optional feature of the IRM and is one of its shortcomings, together with a lack of transparency, and a lack of follow-up measures.

Find out more about CSO’s experiences globally engaging in their UNCAC reviews in the blog post we published on the Convention’s 20th anniversary this past October. 

Other trainings

This year, the UNCAC Coalition regional coordinators also conducted several general trainings on the above-mentioned tools to better equip CSOs to contribute to their UNCAC reviews, according to their country’s review status.

Furthermore, members and affiliates from the UNCAC Coalition had the pleasure to attend regional trainings on three key-anti-corruption topics, led by three international member organizations from our network, respectively, on:

  • Public Procurement, by Open Contracting Partnership (OCP); 
  • Political Financing, by International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); and on
  • Anti-Corruption Sanctions, by International Lawyer’s Project (ILP).

We thank these organizations for this wonderful opportunity and call on other civil society organizations from within our network to let us know if they are in a position to provide other CSOs with training on a specific anti-corruption topic!