Tuesday 30 January 2024 –
Corruption has damaging effects extending beyond the state, causing direct harm to individuals, institutions, communities, and societies as a whole, exacerbating the vulnerability of marginalized groups, and hampering the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Bringing the narratives of victims of corruption (VoC) to the forefront brings attention to the widespread repercussions of corruption, promoting a deeper understanding and broader awareness of the importance of anti-corruption efforts.
During the 10th Conference of the States Parties (CoSP10) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), four special events focused on victims of corruption, calling for greater inclusion of victims in corruption proceedings and the need for enhanced access to redress. One of those side events, titled “Victims of Corruption: Back for Payback”, was co-organized by the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia, the Asset Recovery Committee of the International Bar Association, Colombia, Derechos Humanos y Litigio Estratégico Mexicano, the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), Transparency International, Transparency International France and the UNCAC Coalition.
Key Challenges for the rights of VoC
Despite Article 35 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and various international and regional human rights frameworks emphasizing the need for reparation and compensation, substantial obstacles persist, hindering victims of corruption from obtaining reparations.
As justice systems have developed, victims have been largely excluded from criminal proceedings. Panelists called for the reintegration of victims into justice procedures and advocated for loosening the state’s exclusive control over public criminal prosecution in corruption cases.
Lack of access to information is one of the main obstacles to bringing reparations to victims of corruption. There is a lack of information on avenues for civil society to support victims, and on past cases to draw on for good practices. To address this gap, the UNCAC Coalition Working Group on Victims of Corruption’s International Database on Corruption Damage Reparation and Legal Standing for Victims of Corruption collates information on whether and how victims of corruption are recognized and/or remedied around the world. This allows the public to understand how compensation decisions are made in different jurisdictions, and to identify what legal reforms are necessary to improve compensation mechanisms and hold perpetrators of corruption accountable in the public light.
According to Ms. Diana Giselle Osorio Rozo, Group of Transparency Policy, Access to Information, Secretariat of Transparency, Colombia, the identification of victims also poses a significant challenge. To advance these efforts and contribute to victims’ effective reparation, Colombia established the National Network of Victims, committing to a comprehensive approach in the fight against corruption and highlighting that victims must be at the center of public policies.
Dr. Helen Taylor from Spotlight on Corruption presented the example of the Glencore case, which exemplifies how having a narrow focus on what constitutes a victim can result in losing sight of the harms that corruption causes, including social damages and human rights violations. Advocacy work carried out by Spotlight on Corruption has involved convening discussions with civil society in the affected countries to identify victims as a priority and to share the importance of victims being compensated. The compensation of victims should not merely be a legal obligation for States Parties but also a moral imperative.
Another identified challenge is the lack of recognition for collective victims. Data from the UNCAC Coalition’s International Database reveals that many jurisdictions are missing legal instruments that enable victims to claim reparations, compensation, or restoration of collective damages. A recurring recommendation from the panelists was the inclusion of both individual and collective victims in corruption-related trials and settlement proceedings.
Returned assets linked to corruption offenses should be used to provide reparations to victims of corruption. Nonetheless, Clara Inés Lucarella of Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) pointed out that ineffective public policies and a shortage of resources within the judiciary may lead to a decline in the value of returned assets before they can be allocated for the compensation of victims.
The following recommendations were suggested to address the challenges around protecting the rights of victims of corruption:
- Victims should play an active role in corruption cases, in both trial and non-trial settlement proceedings. Individuals and civil society should have legal standing to represent victims of corruption and enable victims’ participation in corruption cases.
- State institutions should acknowledge and address the impact of corruption on their citizens. States should recognize pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages caused by corruption. Compensation for victims is not only a voluntary payment but rather a legal and moral obligation, required under the UNCAC.
- Follow international law definitions of who is a victim, including individual and collective victims, and a broad range of harms in the context of the UNCAC. Civil society can support this by raising awareness and helping states to identify the harms caused by corruption, who the victims are, and ensuring that victims are aware of their rights.
- Use the proceeds of corruption through recovered and returned assets to provide reparations to victims of corruption and other related crimes:
- “Through effective management, confiscated assets can be used to benefit national country budgets, compensate victims, or be repurposed for social causes”. States need to improve policies and ensure legal mechanisms are sufficiently resourced to preserve the value of assets, to enable their use in providing reparations. Civil society can also advocate ways that the state can use returned assets to benefit victims, and monitor asset return spending to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Create reparation funds for victim compensation. State reparation of damages should be promoted through funds covering material and immaterial harms, through monetary or other types of reparation, and civil society should monitor the spending to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Strengthen the inclusion of comprehensive language addressing the rights of victims of corruption in UNCAC resolutions for greater victim recognition, as well as clear obligations on states to compensate victims.
It is worth mentioning that the Atlanta Civil Society Declaration, tabled at the CoSP10, calls for the obligations of states to recognize the impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights and for a victim-centered approach to anti-corruption.
Are you interested in learning more and advancing the rights of Victims of Corruption? Join our Victims of Corruption Working Group here.
Resources for further reading
Felipe Freitas Falconi, José Ugaz, Juanita Olaya Garcia, Yara Esquivel Soto, (2023). Victims of Corruption: Back for Payback, https://star.worldbank.org/publications/victims-corruption-back-payback.
Lisa Bostwick, Nigel Bartlett, Hermione Cronje, T.J. Abernathy III, (2023). Managing Seized and Confiscated Assets: A Guide for Practitioners, https://star.worldbank.org/publications/managing-seized-and-confiscated-assets-guide-practitioners
See the Written Submission to the CoSP10 on “Consequences of Corruption: The Right of Victims to Participation and Reparation in Corruption Cases” by the UNCAC Coalition Working Groups on Victims of Corruption, on Asset Recovery, on Grand Corruption and STate Capture, and on Gender Inclusion and Corruption.
See the Open Letter to UNCAC States Parties: A Call for Action at the 10th UNCAC Conference of States Parties in Atlanta in December 2023 to Ensure Effective Reparation to Victims of the Harm caused by Corruption.
UNCAC Coalition Victims of Corruption Working Group: https://uncaccoalition.org/victims-of-corruption-working-group/.
Atlanta Civil Society Declaration: https://uncaccoalition.org/uncac-cosp10-atlanta_civil-society-declaration/