The NGO briefing on the margins of the UNCAC IRG meeting

10 September 2020 – 

On 1 September 2020, the yearly ‘NGO briefing’ took place on the margins of the 11th reconvened session of the UNCAC Implementation Review Group meeting (IRG) at the UNODC in Vienna. It had been postponed from its original date in June due to the evolving COVID-19 situation and was conducted in a hybrid format with around 20 in-person and roughly 70 remote participants from 40 CSOs and 15 States Parties. The briefing, organized by the Secretariat of the UNCAC Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) in collaboration with the UNCAC Coalition, is the only regular forum in the context of the UNCAC where civil society can formally engage with the UNODC and the States Parties outside the UNCAC CoSP. 

Resolution 4/6, adopted during the 4th CoSP in Marrakesh, Morocco, sets the procedures for the NGO briefing, which is intended to provide civil society organizations (CSOs) with an update on the status of implementation of the UNCAC and provide them with an opportunity to give input and raise questions on the mechanism and related topics. The restrictions on civil society participation in the UNCAC fora have been an ongoing and contentious issue in the deliberations of States Parties. While CSOs and many States Parties call for greater civil society involvement and inclusion, other States Parties see the current arrangement as sufficient.

Slow progress of country reviews and follow- up 

UNODC provided an update on the progress of the UNCAC implementation reviews during the first and second cycles:

  • To date, executive summaries of 173 States Parties have been published on the UNODC website under the first cycle, 44 executive summaries have been published under the second cycle.
  • The review process suffers many delays, the median duration of country reviews being more than 31 months, which is much longer than the 6 months period that was envisaged for the complete review.

Significant delays are attributed to all stages of the review. For the self-assessment questionnaire, extensive consultations with different government stakeholders are required when assessing the implementation of Chapter II of the UNCAC, which takes time to coordinate. Additionally, scheduling country visits has become an even greater challenge in times of COVID-19, contributing to further delays.

At the 8th CoSP, the States Parties decided to extend the second cycle, originally intended to be concluded in 2020, until June 2024. The Secretariat ensured its continued collaboration with States Parties to assess on a case-by-case basis whether country visits would be conducted virtually, due to the pandemic. However, it stressed that the advantages of holding in-person country visits, such as peer learning as well as more engagement with civil society in the review process, should be maintained. While UNODC reported that the vast majority of States Parties, more than 90%, involved “other stakeholders” in their review process, the type of involvement, as well as the quality of involvement of civil society, remained unclear. Nevertheless, more and more countries have been requesting technical assistance on the participation of society in the prevention of corruption (Article 13 of the UNCAC), a trend that the Coalition requested more information on during the briefing.

UNODC provided an overview of the technical assistance provided to States Parties following the observations contained in the country reviews. The Secretariat reiterated that UNODC develops technical assistance programs based on review findings, encouraging civil society to play a role in the provision of technical assistance in requesting countries. The UNODC civil society team gave an update on training it has organized in collaboration with CSOs, having reached 380 CSOs since 2011.

Mathias Huter, managing director of the UNCAC Coalition, taking the floor during the 11th IRG NGO Briefing

Civil society input

In its main intervention, the UNCAC Coalition reiterated civil society’s interest in contributing to the national reviews, the support the Coalition is providing to CSOs in this regard, and its engagement with governments to advocate for greater civil society participation. An update was provided on the status of the Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, which currently has 26 signatory countries. The Coalition highlighted the need for greater transparency during the review process, for instance, by making updated review schedules and the contact details of national focal points publicly available, to allow CSOs to engage in the review process more easily. 

The Coalition also discussed the follow-up to the reviews. As it currently stands, the follow-up is voluntary and there is no standardized template for it. Consequently, the quality and length of the follow-up documents addressing the recommendations given to countries in the context of their reviews vary greatly, and only a few States Parties have published such information on their UNODC country profile pageThe Coalition calls for a mandatory, more structured follow-up process, and urges countries to provide details on their actions to address the gaps in implementing the UNCAC, as identified in their reviews.  

Helen Darbishire, the new UNCAC Coalition Chair and Executive Director of Access Info Europe called for greater transparency in fighting corruption, and raised concerns regarding public procurement processes, especially in the context of aid provided during times of COVID-19. 

Gillian Dell from Transparency International, who is also a member of the UNCAC Coalition’s Board, mentioned the useful report on States Parties‘ implementation of chapter II of the UNCAC. However, she emphasized that 2019 marked 10 years of the exclusion of civil society from the IRG meetings, and wondered “how does it serve the aim of the IRG to meet behind closed doors?” Dell also highlighted that only 7 out of the 44 countries that have published their executive summaries of their second cycle review have introduced beneficial ownership registries, in line with article 12 of the Convention. She called on States Parties and UNODC to place the issues grand corruption, beneficial ownership, and illicit financing on the agenda of the intersessional meetings in preparation of the UNGASS against corruption. 

Further interventions were made by the NGO Alliance on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which called on governments to discuss corruption and its links to other forms of crime. The Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime called for the UNCAC Secretariat to assist the Secretariat of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) in preparing the newly-established review mechanism for implementation of this Convention by providing insights based on lessons learned from the UNCAC review mechanism. 

Finally, the Coalition raised attention to the fact that some representatives from civil society had difficulties in obtaining visas to enter the host country of the 8th CoSP. Looking ahead to the 9th CoSP to be held in Egypt in late 2020, the civil society community hopes that UNODC will support it by facilitating its attendance at this important meeting.