11 September 2020 –
The first of three CoSP intersessional meetings in preparation for the UNGASS 2021 against corruption was held in Vienna on 2-4 September, in accordance with the General Assembly resolution 74/276. The objective of the meetings is to collect input from States and regional economic integration organisations parties to the UNCAC, observers to the General Assembly, and relevant organisations. The September meeting focused on the topics of prevention, criminalisation, and law enforcement. The meeting included panel presentations given by States from all regional groups on challenges and approaches to the prevention of corruption in times of crisis and on ending impunity by effectively combating corruption.
As a result of the Special Session, which will be held from 2-4 June 2021 in New York, a Political Declaration will be agreed upon to strengthen and reaffirm States Parties’ commitment to fighting corruption on national, regional and global levels. A Zero Draft of this declaration was circulated among States Parties in mid-August, which States will negotiate starting in late September 2020, until its approval at a special CoSP session on 7 May. The draft declaration will then be transmitted to the General Assembly for adoption.
Most States that took the floor during the meeting welcomed the work done on the Zero Draft and considered it to be a good starting point to initiate discussions. Many States expressed their will to see an action-oriented Political Declaration that addresses fighting corruption in an ambitious and forward-looking manner. Several States Parties also expressed their wish for the Political Declaration to follow the structure of the UNCAC to produce a logical and balanced document addressing all Chapters of the Convention.
Civil society’s contributions for the preparation of the UNGASS 2021 were unfortunately not taken into consideration in the drafting of the Zero Draft. Nevertheless, ten delegations emphasised the crucial role of civil society in the prevention of corruption during the meetings. Several States Parties highlighted the valuable and useful inputs from civil society in the review process, as well as the general need to open up the discussions to stakeholders beyond the public sector in order to ensure the development of more effective and inclusive anti-corruption measures.
Trends and recurrent topics
Discussions arose primarily around the creation of new mechanisms for the implementation of the UNCAC. Rather than creating new mechanisms to fight corruption, some States call for the strengthening of existing mechanisms. Some delegations raised their concerns in regard to their workload, and therefore, their unwillingness to develop new systems that would put further pressure on their capacity. Delegations are currently preparing for the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Crime (UNTOC) which will be held in October and will also be negotiating a second political declaration around the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice scheduled for March 2021.
Many delegations expressed their strong will to further strengthen international and regional cooperation, especially in matters of technical assistance and asset recovery. Reinforcing the capacity of States through collaboration was presented by States as one of the key elements to achieving an efficient and effective implementation of the UNCAC, and to building trust among States Parties.
The societal aspect of corruption was mentioned several times during the meeting, and with it, an apparent will to develop a culture of integrity to uproot corruption from the public and private sector and end impunity, which strongly undermines development and exacerbates poverty. The protection of the rule of law was repeatedly emphasised, especially in relation to the achievement of the SDGs, particularly SDG 16, which calls for stronger institutions and better access to justice for all.
State Parties and relevant stakeholders made suggestions as to which specific aspects should be considered and emphasised in the Political Declaration. For instance, some countries reminded the international community that the fight against corruption should take into consideration human rights concerns. The adequate protection of reporting persons and witnesses was also referred to, along with suggestions to include in the Declaration a more gender-sensitive approach to the fight against corruption. One country suggested the incorporation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the discussions, considering the impact of the ongoing public health crisis and its role as an enabler of corruption.
Civil society interventions
Several civil society organisations had the opportunity to give statements sharing their input and highlighting key areas that should be strengthened via the Political Declaration. One of the key messages addressed the essential role of civil society in monitoring the implementation of the UNCAC on a national level, contributing to the country review process with their expertise, and raising awareness around corruption issues to the general public.
The UNCAC Coalition, along with ARTICLE 19, stressed the importance of establishing a structured follow-up system to assess the measures taken by States Parties after the completion of their reviews. To this day, there is no compulsory mechanism to determine how States tackle the recommendations formulated during the reviews.
Despite the fact the panels did not include civil society, some CSO representatives asked the panelists their position regarding ways to address gaps in the implementation of the UNCAC, especially regarding the challenge of grand corruption. Other pressing issues were raised such as the necessity to protect whistle-blowers and recognise their role in preventing and fighting corruption, create publicly accessible beneficial ownership registries, and address the challenges around asset recovery.