Statement of David Banisar of ARTICLE 19 to the UNCAC Implementation Review Group

4 June 2015, ARTICLE 19.

Good Morning Mr Chair and distinguished delegates

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is David Banisar. I am Senior Legal Counsel for ARTICLE 19, the global campaign for freedom of expression and information and co-vice chair of the UNCAC Coalition Coordination Committee.

ARTICLE 19 is a UK-based charity with 10 offices across the world including Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar, Mexico, Senegal, Tunisia, and Brasil. We promote the human rights of freedom of expression, information, public participation, and other related rights with a focus on using them as levers to help communities achieve their rights to water, education, health, environment and land.

I would like in my brief intervention today to follow up on the remarks of my colleagues and highlight the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr Maina Kaia on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of multilateral institutions to the UN General Assembly last fall (UN Document A/69/365).

I am doing so since the Special Rapporteur, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, examined in detail in this report the evolving relationship between civil society and UN bodies and highlighted challenges and best practices which can be used to inform future decisions on civil society participation in UNCAC bodies.

The Special Rapporteur stated in his report that:

Enabling environments for civil society should exist at both [national and international] levels. With the increased interconnectedness in domestic and international affairs, and with decision-making at the international level having a significant impact in national policies and practices, it is essential that such decisions are made in a transparent, accountable and participatory manner. The Special Rapporteur wishes to emphasize the legitimacy of civic action at the international level and underscores the need for States to listen to the views and voices of their constituents, whether they are expressed at the domestic or the international level.

[M]ultilateral institutions play a key role in stimulating global public debate by strengthening the visibility of civil society organizations and by facilitating peaceful assembly within their structures and programmes.

Most multilateral institutions recognize that citizens must be given a seat at the decision-making table and encourage — or even require — engagement with civil society in their charters or policies.

The Special Rapporteur observes with concern how at the multilateral level the space and autonomy given to associations and people to exercise their fundamental rights is in far too many instances determined by world politics and limited and/or suspicious national conceptions of the role of civil movements in global societies.

Citizens must be given a seat at the decision- making table. Otherwise, multilateral institutions run the risk of becoming private clubs where States implement policy sheltered from public view and input.

The Special Rapporteur also believes that a pro-civil society organization culture within multilateral organizations is crucial. Such a culture should be rooted in the attitude that the organization is an agent dedicated to upholding ideals and effecting change, rather than a bureaucracy built to maintain the status quo.

The Special Rapporteur specifically highlighted the problems that civil society faces in the UNCAC process in the limited access to the IRG and the frankly unsustainable limits on civic society to be able to mention any country while expected to be able to effectively share experiences. After all, it should be obvious that experience comes from failure as well as success and we must recognise that. We note that UNODC has previously recognized that Resolution 4/6 itself is contradictory in this aspect.

To give you an example of how cooperation can work better, in New York, ARTICLE 19 has worked closely with member state delegations to create a Friends of Governance group, chaired by the Ambassadors of Mexico, Romania and Republic of Korea, where all parties can debate freely on issues of governance in the development agenda including access to information, public participation, anti-corruption, and oversight mechanisms. Many of the same issues we discuss here. The group will be producing its first book based on the first three workshops in the near future. This model of partnership, rather than exclusion, can work just as well in Vienna as in New York. There as also equally strong partnerships in Santiago, Nairobi and Geneva.

We again urge that member states at the upcoming COSP, which is in just a few months now, resolve this by adopting a resolution which takes a modern, mature and inclusive view which fully recognizes the importance of civil society participation based on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and the co-operative spirit of the UNCAC convention. Everyone has a role to play in eradicating corruption, and that begins with a recognition of all key sectors’ experience and expertise and to build partnerships based on that, not placing artificial barriers on participation.

As U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who helped create the league of Nations, stated over 100 years ago: “everyone knows that corruption thrives in secret places and avoids public places and we believe it is a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.” Let us work together to eliminate those places, not create new ones.

The full report is available at the Special Rapporteur’s website.