26 July 2015, by Gillian Dell, Transparency International Secretariat.
Considering the importance of the corruption issue and the strong public demand around the world to see it addressed, it is perhaps surprising that UNCAC gathering are such low-key affairs compared with the high profile summits that are keeping governments busy this year. This is possibly because UNCAC meetings are quite process-oriented and technical. Some of those involved see the low profile as having the benefit of reducing the level of politicisation and increasing the possibility of progress.
However, UNCAC discussions can get quite polarized, especially when it comes to discussions of transparency and the role of civil society in the UNCAC review process. . This article gives an update on what happened at the UNCAC Implementation Review Group session and briefing for NGOs in June.
UNCAC Conference of States Parties
This year is a significant one for UNCAC, with the 6th session of the UNCAC Conference of States Parties (COSP) due to take place in St. Petersburg, 2-6 November 2015. The COSP holds sessions every two years and the upcoming meeting will decide on next steps for the UNCAC review process as it nears the end of its first five-year review cycle. Over 90 country reviews have been completed (not all are online) covering the UNCAC chapters on criminalisation, enforcement and international cooperation and more are expected to be finished by the time the 6th COSP meets in November.
Negotiations in preparation for the COSP started at the meeting of the intergovernmental UNCAC Implementation Review Group (IRG) at the UN in Vienna in June. The IRG is a part of the UNCAC Review Mechanism and is tasked with overseeing the progress of reviews and making recommendations to the COSP. It is composed of representatives of all States Parties and has met twice annually since it started work in June 2010. Civil society organisations have thus far been excluded from attending its meetings as observers due to ongoing opposition from a small but influential group of countries. Surprisingly, at the IRG’s latest meeting, the Africa Group publicly joined the group opposing civil society observer status in all COSP subsidiary bodies. For an insight into UNCAC COSP negotiations see the interesting 2012 article by Matti Joutsen and Adam Graycar.
6th UNCAC IRG Session in June 2015
At the IRG’s session on 1–5 June there were no draft resolutions circulating; those are expected to appear at UNCAC meetings in September. The UNCAC Coalition and Transparency International made written submissions for the consideration of States Parties that can be found on the UNODC and UNCAC Coalition websites.
Based on the official report and Coalition conversations with country delegations, the issues discussed at the IRG meeting included the following:
Agenda for 6th COSP. Countries that support CSO participation in UNCAC subsidiary bodies have proposed an agenda item on that subject for the next COSP. A small group of countries oppose this agenda item and may have won support from other countries. Informal consultations were due to take place alongside the IRG meeting in June.
- Current status: There still appears to be no agreed agenda for the 6th COSP.
2nd UNCAC review cycle. States Parties agreed in Doha in 2009 in Resolution 3/1 that the 1st cycle of reviews (currently underway) would cover chapter III on criminalisation and enforcement and chapter IV on international cooperation. They also agreed that the 2nd five-year cycle of reviews would cover chapter II on prevention and chapter V on asset recovery. UNODC has prepared a draft self-assessment checklist for the 2nd cycle and discussions are underway about its format, content and length. A few countries have even raised questions about the scope of coverage of the 2nd review cycle; they argue that it is impossible to cover both prevention and asset recovery in the 2nd cycle in any meaningful way. However, most countries favour covering both chapters as previously agreed and this is also the Coalition’s position in its statement. A further issue that was discussed is the need to ensure consistency in the handling of 2nd cycle reviews, as well as the possibility of increasing transparency and civil society participation.
- Current status: States Parties will hold informal consultations ahead of the 6th COSP on various issues relating to the 2nd cycle of reviews.
Experience of the 1st cycle: The official report of the IRG meeting describes two panel discussions held at the meeting. The first panel on review of implementation included presentations of country experiences in the first cycle of reviews by Israel, the Philippines and Ghana. The second panel discussion was on technical assistance, with speakers from Brazil, Malaysia and Micronesia. Country representatives discussed several issues relating to the 1st cycle, including the question of consistency of review observations and recommendations.
- Current status: UNODC is preparing, inter alia, an update to its 2013 report on the “State of Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption”
Follow-up to 1st cycle of reviews. There is so far no formal process of follow-up to the recommendations from the 1st cycle of reviews. Such follow-up is typical in other anti-corruption review mechanisms. The official report of the IRG meeting describes how a number of countries are already following up on a voluntary basis. However, follow-up needs to be formalized. In discussions in Vienna, many countries expressed support for a follow-up process.
- Current status: There are no written proposals on the table yet for a formal follow-up process.
CSO applications for observer status: On 1 June 2015 the UNCAC Coalition and Transparency International applied to the UNCAC COSP Bureau for observer status in the upcoming UNCAC Working Groups on Prevention and Asset Recovery due to take place in August/September. The applications were based on UNCAC COSP Rules of Procedure 2 and 17. The applications were discussed on 5 June in the UNCAC COSP Bureau, a body which is provided for in Rule 30 of the COSP Rules of Procedure and consists of the COSP President (currently Panama), three Vice Presidents (currently Namibia, Romania, Spain) and a Rapporteur (currently 5. China). It met in June for the first time since the 5th COSP in Panama in 2013.
The issue of CSO observer status in the Working Groups was also discussed in the IRG meeting itself. Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group: “stressed the intergovernmental nature of the Mechanism and also stressed that the rules of procedure of the Conference did not allow for the participation of NGOs in intergovernmental bodies and all working groups of the Conference and noted the compromise that had been reached in resolution 4/6.” (Note: see explanation of resolution 4/6 below) On the other hand, the representative of the European Union “stressed its view that the participation of NGOs in intergovernmental bodies was in full compliance with the rules of procedure of the Conference.”
- Current status: The Bureau reportedly lacked consensus on whether to admit the applications by the UNCAC Coalition and Transparency International and thus no decision was made nor response sent.
Venue for 6th COSP: At the IRG meeting in June, a representative of the Russian Federation outlined the preparation underway to hold the 6th COSP in St. Petersburg. However, as of July, the Russian Federation had still not signed the host country agreement with UNODC, so the venue had not been confirmed.
- Current status: Confirmation is expected for the St. Petersburg venue but has not yet been provided.
4th IRG Briefing for NGOs on 4 June
For the last four years, the IRG has held a briefing for NGOs on the margins of the IRG meeting and the latest one was held on 4 June. This is the result of a compromise reached at the Marrakech COSP in 2011, when UNCAC States Parties held negotiations about their disagreement regarding the admission of CSOs as observers in IRG sessions. Supporters of CSO participation decided to accept a temporary compromise in Resolution 4/6 which called for the IRG to provide a briefing for NGOs on the margins of its meetings, to build trust.
The agenda for the latest all-day IRG briefing on 4 June can be found on the UNCAC Coalition website page dedicated to the 6th IRG. The briefing was quite well attended by country delegates during the morning session, with 85 delegates from 49 countries. Attendance fell off in the afternoon. The UNODC report on the briefing can be found on the UNODC website page on the 6th IRG.
In practice, most of what CSOs learn during these briefings can be captured from the documents for the IRG session on the UNODC website. However, the briefing also gives CSOs the opportunity to present recommendations, describe best practices and relate experiences supporting UNCAC implementation and review, though subject to a paradoxical rule that CSO representatives should not discuss specific country situations. A possible alternative to the full-day of CSO-organised panel discussions at the IRG briefing would be to hold lunchtime panel discussions during the entire week of the IRG session, which could also serve to promote constructive dialogue between delegations and civil society representatives.
The latest IRG briefing for NGOs began with a one-hour briefing by UNODC, followed by statements from several Coalition members. There were then three panels organised by the Coalition.
One of the panels presented proposals about the UNCAC review mechanism from:
- Martin Matter, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN Office in Vienna, The UNCAC review mechanism: Moving into the 2nd cycle
- Gillian Dell, Transparency International, Increasing the UNCAC review mechanism’s effectiveness
You can find both these presentations on the UNCAC Coalition website in the section on the 6th IRG. They propose, inter alia, that the 6th COSP should establish a formal follow-up process to the 1st review cycle and an effective, well-resourced 2nd review cycle covering both prevention and asset recovery.
There were two further panels on priority anti-corruption topics, with proposals for the consideration of States Parties:
- The panel on “Tackling money laundering” focused on prevention, emphasizing the importance of public registers of beneficial ownership and the need to counter laundering through real estate, drawing on examples from London and New York City.
- The panel on “Special measures against grand corruption” covered approaches ranging from a proposal for an international anti-corruption court to a call for eliminating immunities in corruption cases.
Negotiations ahead of the COSP are expected to resume at the meetings of the UNCAC Working Groups on Prevention and Asset Recovery in Vienna in September. It is to be hoped that after a slow start, preparations for the 6th COSP will pick up steam, that solutions will be found to process issues, and attention will be given to collective action on priority implementation issues. States Parties are invited to give consideration to the written and oral statements from the UNCAC Coalition and Transparency International and from other civil society representatives submitted to the IRG briefing for NGOs in June. Civil society organisation continue to call for greater transparency and CSO participation in the UNCAC review process, including CSO participation in UNCAC COSP subsidiary bodies such as the IRG and Working Groups.
About Gillian Dell
Gillian Dell is the head of the Conventions Unit at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin and a member of the UNCAC Coalition Coordination Committee. She was one of the two original co-convenors of the UNCAC Coalition in 2006 and the TIS Conventions Unit has provided secretariat support to the UNCAC Coalition since then.
- Many Vienna delegations participated in 13th UN Crime Congress in April 2015 and negotiated the Doha Declaration which, inter alia, reaffirmed states’ commitment to implement UNCAC. And on 13 – 16 July, the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa adopted an Agenda for Action, which included a commitment to making UNCAC an effective instrument. In September, the UN General Assembly is expected to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda which includes the important Goal 16 on transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. On 30 November – 11 December an estimated 40,000 participants will meet at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and with efforts to raise US$ 100 billion per annum, it is to be hoped that anti-corruption considerations and UNCAC will play a role.
- “When Experts and Diplomats Agree: Negotiating Peer Review of the UN Convention against Corruption”, Global Governance 18, pp. 425-439 (2012)
- Civil society organisations may make short written submissions to some of the IRG meetings but these submissions may not include CSO reviews of country compliance with UNCAC –those may be submitted only to the COSP.