19 February 2021 –
The UNCAC Coalition held two virtual briefing sessions on February 4 and 10 for interested Civil Society participants with the aim of sharing information about the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session against Corruption (UNGASS) in June. The meetings, attended by close to 50 activists, discussed the state of negotiations of the UNGASS’ main outcomes, the High Level Political Declaration, included a Q&A session and came up with ideas on how to exert pressure on governments to promote bold positions in the political declaration.
The UNGASS is an important high-level meeting, the first of its kind on the topic of corruption. One of its central components will be a concise and action-oriented political declaration, from which we hope to see emerge clear commitments for reforms and actions to which governments can be held accountable. We are hoping for a reporting mechanism on progress in implementing current UNCAC provisions, as well as a path forward to address gaps in the existing anti-corruption framework.
- To learn more about the policy issues the UNCAC Coalition, its member organisations and other civil society groups are advocating for, see the written submissions to the UNGASS.
As for now, the UN General Assembly has not taken a decision regarding the modalities of participation in the UNGASS in June that reflects the limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those for civil society. This decision is expected to be taken in April. The expectation is to have a hybrid meeting – possibly with US-based diplomats attending the meeting in person – while most participants will only join virtually. Since Civil Society cannot participate in the negotiations of the Political Declaration, the Vienna-based team of the UNCAC Coalition has been engaging extensively with Member States, in order to gain insight into the dynamics of the negotiations, and at the same time to advocate for a bold and forward looking political outcome.
Observations on the UNGASS preparations process
Some general observations which the Coalition has made from the side-lines are:
- Some regions are heavily under-represented in the negotiations. Most countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia and the Pacific do not play an active role in the negotiations, although having a clear interest in the outcomes;
- Many countries with success stories and good practices are not sufficiently involved in the negotiations, missing out on the opportunity to influence them by raising the bar of commitments and standards in fighting corruption;
- Several countries are taking conservative positions, including a number of Western European countries, and many are reluctant to agree on new commitments, and prefer an emphasis on fully implementing the existing international legal framework;
- Positions and agreements are based on the lowest common denominator following the “Vienna spirit of consensus” – in contrast to UN negotiations in New York and Geneva, where countries may form coalitions and vote on proposals, in Vienna, a consensus is sought and votes are avoided;
- There are several controversial topics which are contentious among different countries and regions, such as:
- the mentioning of the FACTI Panel findings,
- addressing illicit financial flows (and the use of this term itself),
- the role of civil society and the participation of non-state stakeholders in anti-corruption meetings and fora as observers,
- recognising gendered forms of corruption,
- ways to advance and improve asset recovery,
- improving the transparency and effectiveness of the UNCAC review mechanism.
- The issue of a follow-up mechanism to the UNGASS remains open. Furthermore, is not clear yet if Member States will recognize and act upon the need to establish an inclusive mechanism, an expert group or a forum that would allow for a comprehensive reflection and discussion of lessons learned from the past 15 years of UNCAC implementation, of gaps identified in the Convention, shortcomings in international cooperation, shortcomings in asset recovery and return, and more broadly gaps in the global fight against corruption.
Many of the negotiators of the Political Declaration are not anti-corruption experts, and lack knowledge on their own country’s context, but possibly also an in-depth understanding of the challenges and gaps in international anti-corruption efforts. Civil society thus plays an important role in informing them and raising awareness about good national practices that should be brought up during the negotiations.
Window of opportunity for civil society
Over the next two months there is still a window of opportunity to encourage governments to push for a more progressive and bold political declaration. The negotiations will be finalised in late April to early May, when the political declaration is adopted at a special session of the UNCAC Conference of States Parties, before it is forwarded to the UN General Assembly. Now is the time to take action: civil society can help create momentum – otherwise the UNGASS may become a missed opportunity by the international community and will fail to ensure much-needed progress in the global fight against corruption.
Ideas for civil society to build momentum, discussed and shared by webinar attendees and the UNCAC Coalition included:
- Contacting your country’s negotiators (Vienna-based delegates, or the government experts based in Capital), mobilizing them to become involved in the negotiations and for your country to champion and support specific anti-corruption policies.
- Making written submissions to the UNGASS consultation process. These do not always reach negotiators and need to actively be communicated.
- Raising the pressure for governments to deliver:
- Mobilizing international media outlets to raise the profile of and general awareness on the existence of the upcoming UNGASS, beyond outreach to national representatives and negotiators;
- Campaigning on social media, highlighting our core ‘asks’ as civil society representatives via tweets using #UNGASS2021 and writing posts;
- Keeping governments accountable by setting up a tracker where their commitments to anti-corruption measures can be monitored. One such example is Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker.