Oral statement by Gillian Dell (TI / UNCAC Coalition) on the Detention of the Reporter Stevan Dojčinović

18 December 2019 –

Gillian Dell (Transparency International, member of the UNCAC Coalition board) delivered the following oral statement to the UNCAC CoSP8 Plenary on Prevention of Corruption on Wednesday, 18 December, addressing the detention of the award-winning Serbian reporter Stevan Dojčinović, who had been detained at the Abu Dhabi airport earlier this day, as he was arriving in the United Arab Emirates to speak at a side event of the CoSP:

“Mr. President, honourable delegates,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I am Gillian Dell from the NGO Transparency International.

I would like to speak about Articles 13 and Article 12 and very briefly about prevention in general.

I will start with a personal experience. In the middle of the night last night, I was awakened by a phone call informing me that a Serbian journalist Stevan Dojčinović invited to the UNCAC Conference of States Parties had arrived in the country and was being detained prior to expulsion from the country. This award-winning journalist, who investigates corruption, had an invitation from UNODC to this UN conference and was due to speak in a side event this afternoon. He was told that he had been placed on a blacklist for reasons unrelated to the domestic affairs of the host country. The expulsion by the host has now taken place and the journalist has arrived back in Belgrade.

This shocking development tells us that a journalist working to uncover corruption is not welcome at this conference. His expulsion from the country violates international standards on the conduct of UN meetings and other international standards.

We would like to respectfully remind this conference of international human rights standards regarding participation in public affairs, which also apply in international meetings, as recently emphasized by the Human Rights Council. We remind also of international human rights standards regarding freedom of expression and association.

We would also like to respectfully remind the conference of Article 13’s language including the requirement to raise public awareness regarding the existence, causes and gravity of and threat posed by corruption. This is what the award-winning journalist from OCCRP does and would have spoken about.

There have been other restrictions on civil society space at this conference – including the exclusion of NGOs for no apparent reason other than their serious work on corruption – but those restrictions fade in comparison with the shameful exclusion of an officially invited and highly respected journalist.

The exclusion of the Serbian journalist makes a mockery of this conference. It is particularly saddening for us because, despite the multiple restrictions civil society faces at this conference and in the Convention’s review mechanism, we have persisted in believing in the importance of UNCAC and of meetings of the States Parties and have continued to make inputs and look for ways to strengthen the Convention.

Journalists have demonstrated over and over that they have a crucial role to play in uncovering corruption issues, especially where state institutions fail. The exclusion of this journalist is a reminder of all the journalists and other civil society actors around the world who suffer repression and violence because of their efforts to curb corruption.

We believe that the role and treatment – or mistreatment – of journalists should be placed on the agenda of the UNGASS.

It is hard to turn to other issues after this, but I will briefly mention two.

Turning to other issues. Article 12(2)(d) on promoting transparency among private entities. In September we made a written submission outlining the crucial importance of beneficial ownership transparency and in particular public registers of beneficial ownership. Anonymous companies are the getaway cars for the corrupt, used to conceal diverted assets. In our view, this is an issue of the highest priority where there are important advances that should be accelerated. Money laundering of proceeds of corruption through financial institutions, real estate, luxury goods and other means has to be stopped – it is a sine qua non of fighting corruption. This assembly should take strong action in this area and give it high priority at the UNGASS.

We also made a written to submission to this conference on the issue of gender and corruption. It calls on States Parties to recognize gendered forms of corruption and to adopt a gender-inclusive and gender-sensitive approach to fighting corruption.

Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to speak. We would welcome an explanation of the treatment of the invited journalist.

Thank you very much!”