Why should civil society be allowed to attend meetings of the UNCAC subsidiary bodies?
Transparency and civil society participation are essential for anti-corruption efforts. This is recognised in many articles of the UNCAC. CSOs offer valuable expertise and advice for government initiatives, and support of the wider public is crucial for effective implementation.
Yet since 2010 CSOs have been excluded from participating as observers in the meetings of UNCAC subsidiary bodies. This violates the applicable rules of procedure, which are very clear:
According to Rule 2, the COSP rules of procedure must be applied mutatis mutandis to subsidiary bodies created under UNCAC Article 63. These bodies include the Implementation Review Group, the Working Group on Prevention and the Working Group on Asset Recovery.
The following rules thus apply to the IRG mutatis mutandis:
- Rule 17 says that CSOs can participate as observers in COSP plenaries.
- Rule 40 says that COSP plenaries should be public unless the COSP decides otherwise.
A few states parties that wish to exclude CSO observers argue that Rule 17 does not apply to subsidiary bodies because of the reference to “plenaries”. This interpretation is incorrect. It fails to give meaning to the term “mutatis mutandis”. It ignores the fact that subsidiary bodies take decisions in plenary sessions and that under Rule 40 their sessions should be public. It also runs counter to UN practice in Geneva and New York, where working groups are public and open to CSO observers unless the working group decides otherwise.
Most importantly, excluding CSOs is inconsistent with the ideals of transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration embodied in the UNCAC.
The exclusion of CSOs damages the reputation and credibility of the UN and the UNCAC and should be addressed promptly.
- “Mutatis mutandis” means changing [only] those things which need to be changed.