Successes, Challenges and Priorities for the UNCAC Coalition’s Global Network

28 April 2023 –

In 2023, the UNCAC Coalition surveyed over 350 civil society organizations (CSOs) that are part of the Coalition’s global network advocating for stronger anti-corruption reforms and a safe, inclusive and enabling environment for civil society. The aim of the survey was to understand the Coalition membership’s priority issues, major successes, challenges and engagement with UNCAC-related activities. Another aim was to gather ideas for how the UNCAC Coalition can further support and amplify the work of CSOs in its network and can promote a strong and visible civil society presence at the 10th UNCAC Conference of the States Parties (CoSP), which will take place from 11-15 December 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 

A total of 163 members and affiliated groups out of the 385 organizations and individuals in the Coalition’s network completed the survey earlier this year. A summary of the main findings from key questions posed is provided below, along with some highlights of priorities and challenges at the regional level.

Success stories: how have UNCAC Coalition Members had impact?

Many concrete and inspiring examples show how members are helping to bring about meaningful change and reforms as a result of their advocacy and policy input, research and investigations, publications and communications and awareness-raising activities. The main achievements are highlighted below:

  • Developing and advocating for policy recommendations and reforms that were adopted by governments and parliaments, including playing critical roles in the development and passage of anti-corruption legislation,
  • Investigative reporting and research that led to judicial proceedings and litigation to address corruption offenses to increase enforcement of anti-corruption laws and promote accountability,
  • Exposing corruption and misappropriation in the management of public funds to help ensure that government funds are managed responsibly and transparently and in a way that will benefit the people in the country,
  • Developing tools, resource, guides and indexes to combat corruption and promote greater accountability and transparency, and
  • Implementing communications and awareness-raising programs to engage key constituencies and the general public in anti-corruption efforts and to promote access to information. 

Shrinking civic space is a major challenge across all regions

Shrinking civic space was one of the top challenges that CSOs report across all regions, consistent with the trends globally. A vulnerable environment for civil society is making it difficult for NGOs to effectively and independently operate across the globe. Respondents commonly report that there is limited government support for civil society and governments often do not recognize CSOs as a legitimate partner in efforts to prevent corruption. Civil society also faces significant challenges in obtaining access to information on government documents, policies and other information related to anti-corruption efforts.

Even more worryingly, the challenges related to civic space are in some cases creating dangerous and restrictive operating environments for some CSOs working to expose and combat corruption. In the Asia-Pacific region, members report facing a range of serious threats, including intimidation and surveillance, the application of defamation laws, digital attacks, and restrictions on the freedom of speech in social media aimed at silencing the voice of CSOs. In some countries, journalists, bloggers and activists have faced specific threats, including police raids and torture, for exposing corruption linked to powerful individuals. This deterioration in civic space is affecting the Coalition’s Asia-Pacific regional network, with shrinking civic space reducing the opportunities to freely discuss and participate in the Network’s activities and to take actions against corruption in the region. 

In Eastern Europe and neighboring countries such as Georgia, Russia and Turkey, respondents report a vulnerable environment for civil society, with specific challenges including limited cooperation with government, government hostility towards civil society and challenges to the credibility of CSOs. Civil society organizations based in countries in the European Union report that raising funds for governance, transparency, and anti-corruption issues is a significant challenge. Additional risks for civil society in the region are libel lawsuits including Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and difficulties in accessing information and participating in policy-making processes. These factors have reduced the impact of CSOs in carrying out their anti-corruption work and their ability to interact with and influence institutions. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, CSOs report that shrinking civic space is a major obstacle in their work which manifests in different ways. Civil society actors face reprisals and threats and there are efforts to exert political control of civic space, including through adopting national legislation that adversely impacts civil society. This has limited their advocacy and campaigning efforts and led to the criminalization of their work. These challenges have resulted in fewer CSOs engaging in anti-corruption efforts, which has affected the work of the remaining organizations that are focused on these issues.  

In the Middle East and North Africa region, CSOs also encounter significant obstacles due to the lack of openness from governments to cooperate with civil society, a lack of transparency related to the policies and processes that governments have put in place to fight corruption, and a high-risk environment for CSOs in Yemen during a time of civil war. In the Latin America and the Caribbean region, CSOs report that shrinking civic space and democratic governance are two major barriers to carrying out their work. Common challenges include direct attacks on CSOs and activists, the higher penetration of disinformation in light of lack of citizen knowledge, the lack of spaces to inform policy or share information and a lack of or negative interaction with government officials. 

Inadequate funding and difficulties in raising funds is a major barrier across all regions that limits capacity. Other constraints facing CSOs in the Coalition include limited staffing, managing differences in time zones, and the need for more training, workshops and capacity building to develop expertise and skills on specific issues. Many also raised the importance of having in-person meetings to promote cooperation and collaboration on joint areas of interest.

What are the key priorities for the Coalition’s Network?

Common themes and priorities for the UNCAC Coalition’s global network have come out clearly in the survey responses. Top priorities for the Coalition’s global network include: defending and promoting civic space, including the protection of whistleblowers, strengthening legal frameworks to fight corruption, promoting transparency of beneficial ownership information and transparent and accountable public procurement processes, and ensuring strong access to information laws.  

Each region also has its own unique priorities that many of its members focus on. For the Asia-Pacific Region, there is focus on promoting effective and strong anti-corruption institutions, training the youth and promoting conflict of interest regulations. In the Latin American and the Caribbean region, there is strong interest in addressing the links between human rights and corruption, beneficial ownership transparency, combating state capture and kleptocracy and promoting open justice and independent judiciary. CSOs in Sub-Saharan Africa place a high priority on the issues of asset recovery, private sector integrity, whistleblower protection and raising public awareness and education. In the Middle East and North Africa region, members highlight the need for protection of whistleblowers and witnesses who report on corruption and the role of corruption in a war economy. In Europe and neighboring countries, priorities include promoting the full implementation and reforms to anti-corruption legislation, monitoring the work of institutions, contributing to the development of anti-corruption strategies, and focusing on issues such as whistleblower protection and public procurement.

How has the UNCAC Coalition helped Members?

The majority of Coalition’s members and affiliated groups report that the UNCAC Coalition has supported members. In the Asia-Pacific region, 79% of respondents state that the UNCAC Coalition’s support has helped them have an impact in strengthening anti-corruption efforts while 57% of respondents in the Latin America and the Caribbean region report that the UNCAC Coalition support has improved the impact of their work. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 83% of CSOs responding to the survey state that the UNCAC Coalition has helped them have an impact in strengthening anti-corruption efforts while 54% of respondents in Europe and neighboring countries respond that the UNCAC Coalition has helped them advance their work.

Members and affiliated groups cite the value of sharing experiences and learning and making connections to experts through the various platforms that the Coalition provides, including regional meetings, events, the working groups, and participation in UN fora. Using the wide range of tools, guides and resources developed by the UNCAC Coalition is also another important way the Coalition supports Members. CSOs also recognize other Coalition initiatives that have helped advance their work, including developing and using civil society parallel reports to evaluate UNCAC implementation, participating in the Access to Information Campaign, receiving support, including technical support, on how CSOs can engage in the UNCAC Review Mechanism in their country, and drawing on the Coalition’s resources and documents to help develop and promote policy measures to combat corruption.

Ideas for UNCAC CoSP 10: joint advocacy around common interests

The majority of respondents plan to participate in the CoSP, either in person or online. They cite the importance of carrying out joint advocacy efforts among the Coalition’s network to effectively advance priorities and amplify the voices of civil society at CoSP 10. The Coalition has an important role to play in promoting the coordination, cooperation and mobilization of coalition members and affiliated groups to have greater impact and in highlighting stories of how civil society actors in its network are contributing to anti-corruption efforts.

Another important need is to provide logistical and financial support for CSOs to attend and participate in CoSP 10 (including ways to participate remotely in a meaningful way) as well as to organize side events, prepare written submissions and involve civil society in the development of UNCAC CoSP resolutions. Promoting more meaningful engagement with governments and international stakeholders is another area of focus that would further support their efforts. Issues to focus on and advance at CoSP 10 include asset recovery, defending civic space and protection of whistleblowers, electoral integrity, public procurement, and access to information. CSOs also cite the need to get more information and resources about the CoSP and UNCAC-related materials to inform their advocacy efforts. 

Beyond CoSP 10, respondents call for the UNCAC Coalition to focus on capacity building, support for advocacy at the national and regional levels, and to provide training on specific issues, including training on security for NGOs and activists, anti-corruption best practices and human rights approaches to corruption.  

Conclusion and next steps

It is fundamental to the UNCAC Coalition’s work to be well informed about the developments and challenges of our global network. Therefore, we deeply value the time and effort that our members and affiliated groups have put into the survey to provide feedback. The Coalition is starting to incorporate the ideas and suggestions from survey responses to promote a strong and visible civil society presence at the UNCAC CoSP 10 and beyond and to advance the agenda for ensuring a safe, inclusive and enabling environment for civil society in efforts to expose and combat corruption across the globe.