UNGASS 2021 – UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption

UN Headquarters in New York.  Credit: Wikicommons/Neptuul (CC)
UN Headquarters in New York. Credit: Wikicommons/Neptuul (CC)

Last updated: 19 July 2021

After the UNGASS:  Looking Back

Right before the UNGASS commenced, the Coalition issued a press release summarising our concrete asks and urging Member States to go beyond the consensus of measures agreed in the Political Declaration. During the Special Session itself, we engaged extensively on Twitter and released a special newsletter edition. We maintained a live blog  summarizing important elements of the statements delivered during the UNGASS General Debate.

Many of the high-level country representatives stated that significant progress was made in their national efforts to prevent and combat corruption. 38 out of the 80 countries that delivered national statements included a reference to the importance of effectively involving civil society in the fight against corruption

However, we encourage you to listen to your country’s statement and ‘fact-check’ what was said. This could be done by reading the statement summary on our live blog, or by listening to the recordings of the General Debate on the Coalition’s YouTube channelThe following Google Doc includes the order of speakers with links to the General Debate sessions, to help you find the exact time of your country’s statement.

On 2-4 June 2021, the first-ever UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) focused on corruption took place in New York. The UNGASS was officially set for these dates in UN General Assembly resolution 74/568 on 31 August 2020. The UNGASS provided an opportunity to shape the global anti-corruption agenda for the next decade – by advancing bold and innovative approaches, scaling best practices and developing new standards and mechanisms.

In the run-up to the UNGASS, the UNCAC Coalition engaged with civil society stakeholders:

  • The Coalition held two virtual briefing sessions in February 2021 for interested Civil Society participants with the aim of sharing information about the upcoming UNGASS, discussing the state of negotiations and ongoing preparations. Read more about the briefings here.
  • The Coalition held three issue-specific briefing sessions in March 2021 for UNGASS delegates involved in the negotiations for the Political Declaration. Read a recap of the sessions, featuring input from experts and practitioners in the field on open contracting and procurement transparency, asset and interest disclosure, and beneficial ownership transparency.
  • The Coalition held two further briefing sessions in April 2021 for any interested Civil Society Organizations to clarify the remaining path to the UNGASS, share information on what will happen, and opportunities to become involved at this stage. If you missed the session, more information from these briefings with practical details about UNGASS modalities and advocacy opportunities can be found here.
  • The Coalition hosted two final briefings in May 2021 for Civil Society representatives with updates on registration, ways to tune in to the session and advocacy opportunities before, during and after the UNGASS. A summary of these details and useful links can be found here.
  • The Coalition held a special pre-UNGASS side event with leading civil society experts analyzing the commitments made in the political declaration in a series of lightning talks. A summary with video clips of the presentations is available here


UNODC launched a website to solicit and publish submissions from governments, UN bodies, international organizations and civil society organizations: https://ungass2021.unodc.org/ungass2021/en/contributions.html 

Contributions by the UNCAC Coalition

Timetable of preparatory meetings

A zero draft of the Political Declaration was prepared by UNODC and took into account input received from States Parties through the consultation process. General Assembly Resolution 74/276, reiterated the importance of having an inclusive preparatory process, and encouraged civil society and academia, as well as other relevant stakeholders, such as UN specialized entities and international organizations, to fully contribute to the preparatory process, and requested UNODC to collect such contributions, including specific recommendations, and make them available to the CoSP.  All the contributions were posted on www.ungass2021.org for the ease of reference of delegations that will participate in the negotiations of the draft political declaration.

Three CoSP intersessional meetings took place between 2020 and 2021,  to support the preparation and negotiation process of the political declaration of the UNGASS, followed by a Special Session of the CoSP that was held for the purpose of approving the political declaration. The meetings took place as follows:

  • 2- 4 September 2020: Focus on prevention, criminalization and law enforcement.  Find a recap of the session here.
  • 19- 20 November 2020:  Focus on asset recovery and international cooperation. Find a recap of the session here.
  • 22- 23 February 2021: Focus on sustained political commitments to the UNCAC, beneficial ownership transparency,  measures to address impunity and the role of education and technology in anti-corruption efforts. Find a recap of the session here.
  • 7 May 2021: Special session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (Vienna) with the purpose of approving the Political Declaration for transmission to the General Assembly for adoption.

Additional information is available on this website, including the above-mentioned timeline. 

Special arrangements for participation in the meeting scheduled for 2- 4 September, 2020: 

The intersessional meetings were attended by organisations that were registered as observers for the UNCAC CoSP 8 in Abu Dhabi in December 2019. The meetings were held in a ‘mixed model’ of participation – with one in-person delegate, and one more delegate attending remotely. Delegations, including CSOs,  had the opportunity to speak, with the option to deliver a statement virtually or recorded as a video.

In case you are interested in contributing to UNCAC Coalition advocacy, attending Intersessional meetings and other UN fora, please let us know – and consider becoming a member of the UNCAC Coalition.

Basis for the UNGASS

The basis for the UNGASS is the General Assembly resolution 73/191, adopted on 17 December 2018, in which the Assembly decides to hold a special session “on challenges and measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation” and that this session “shall adopt a concise and action-oriented political declaration, agreed upon in advance by consensus through intergovernmental negotiations under the auspices of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.”

The resolution was initiated and drafted by Colombia, Peru and Norway, as well as Belize, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

The 8th Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC CoSP8) negotiated and approved a draft resolution on the “Special session of the General Assembly against corruption” that was adopted on 1 June by the General Assembly in New York. 

Civil society participation in the UNGASS

The UNCAC Coalition advocated for a strong inclusion of civil society organizations in the UNGASS and its preparation.

The question of how and to what extent NGOs can participate in the UNGASS proved to be highly contentious, as some countries sought to limit civic space – while many others have highlighted the importance of civil society involvement in the UNGASS and its preparation.

The resolution prepared by the CoSP and adopted by the General Assembly provided the following framework for civil society participation in the UNGASS:

UNGASS preparations (Vienna and online)

  • In the preparation of the UNGASS, all organizational and substantive matters are to be organised in an “open-ended and transparent manner”;
  • The resolution “reiterates the importance of an inclusive preparatory process, including extensive substantive consultations” and encourages “civil society, academia and other relevant stakeholders” (alongside UN bodies and other relevant international and regional organisations) “to fully contribute to the preparatory process”, requesting UNODC to collect and make available such contributions, including specific recommendations on the issues to be addressed by the UNGASS;
  • The intersessional meetings in Vienna can only be attended by non-governmental organizations that had observer status at the 8th UNCAC CoSP in Abu Dhabi – those that have, such as the UNCAC Coalition, can include representatives of other groups in their delegation;
  • Similar to the CoSP, NGOs can speak during the meetings. It may also be possible to show pre-recorded video statements during the intersessional.

UNGASS in New York

  • Representatives of NGOs with ECOSOC consultative status are invited to participate in the UNGASS;
  • NGOs without ECOSOC consultative status: the President of the UN General Assembly will draw up a list of “other relevant representatives of non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, academic institutions and the private sector who may attend the special session”, and submit the list to Member States for their consideration on a non-objection basis. This means that governments will be able to object against certain NGOs attending the UNGASS if they do not have ECOSOC consultative status;
  • Time permitting, a limited number of representatives from relevant organisations, selected by the President of the General Assembly in consultation with Member States, were allowed to make statements.

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