UN: Anti-corruption declaration urges states to prioritise human rights

UN: Anti-corruption declaration urges states to prioritise human rights - Transparency

11 December 2023: Discussion during the 10th session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Photo: UNIS Vienna/Flickr

ARTICLE 19 joined over 110 organisations in signing the Atlanta Civil Society Declaration, which marks the end of the 10th Session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP10) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in Atlanta, Georgia, US on 15 December 2023. We call on States to uphold human rights and consider them to be at the core of the UNCAC implementation going forward; in particular, to protect and promote civic space, to strengthen public participation, transparency and access to information, which encompasses enacting and effectively implementing access to information laws, and to safeguard and defend the ability of whistleblowers, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists to come forward and speak up about wrongdoing and corruption. Read the full declaration below, and view it as a PDF to review all endorsements.

UNCAC CoSP10 – Atlanta Civil Society Declaration

As the 10th Session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP10) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in Atlanta, USA, is concluding, we, more than 110 civil society organisations, having participated in the Conference as observers:

  • Welcome that States Parties, through a historic, first-ever vote, lifted objections against the participation of leading non-governmental organisations and allowed all registered observer organisations to participate in the Conference;
  • Appreciate efforts by the United States as the host to facilitate an inclusive Conference by involving non-governmental stakeholders from all sectors, including by co-organising the first-ever Civil Society Forum ahead of a CoSP in cooperation with civil society and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and call on future hosts of the Conference to take all efforts to promote a safe and enabling environment for civil society participation, ensuring no discrimination against any representatives based on their nationality or background, including by providing easy access to visas and financial resources;
  • Recognise efforts by a number of States Parties to advance UNCAC commitments by proposing resolutions or text for resolutions, including on the transparency of public procurement and political finance, beneficial ownership transparency, recognising and promoting the role of civil society in anti-corruption efforts, addressing gendered aspects of corruption, strengthening whistleblower protection, the links to organised crime and the need to develop synergies between the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the UNCAC, the need to tackle environmental crime and corruption, and the measurement and prevention of corruption;
  • Remain concerned that negotiations on the resolutions take place behind closed doors with observers not being able to attend – contrary to the practice in other UN fora – shielding States Parties from independent scrutiny on the positions they take;
  • Convey disappointment that some States Parties appear to have taken advantage of the consensus-based nature of negotiations to block progressive anti-corruption commitments, placing geopolitical interests above upholding the spirit of UNCAC;
  • Acknowledge that, while they were not always able to reach consensus on ambitious measures needed to advance the implementation of the Convention, some progress was achieved as States Parties agreed on a number of new collective commitments that go beyond their previous pledges.

We call on States Parties to improve legal frameworks and practice on the following:

  • Protect and promote civic space, a safe and enabling environment for citizens, and active civil society participation at the local, national, regional and global levels – including in UNCAC fora, such as the UNCAC implementation reviews, the CoSP, and its subsidiary bodies (the implementation review group and working groups). Governments should eliminate any impediments in law and practice that constrain civic space, which contradict the letter and spirit of the UNCAC, and that do not adhere to international human rights standards. States need to step up efforts to protect and defend all those who report on and uncover corruption, including journalists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists, and release those who have been arbitrarily and unjustly detained for their anti-corruption work, such as Gubad Ibadoghlu, who should have been here with us in Atlanta;
  • Recognise the detrimental impact corruption has on the enjoyment of human rights, in particular those of individual and collective victims, that corruption fuels and exacerbates wars and conflicts, that it undermines society as a whole, and thus insist on the mutual obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights;
  • Recognise the importance of victim participation and reparation, adopt a victim-centred approach to anti-corruption, and allow for strategic litigation as a means to hold governments and the private sector accountable. Use and establish legal frameworks to enable and facilitate the participation of victims of corruption in all stages of criminal, civil, forfeiture, and administrative proceedings, and grant relevant non-governmental organisations legal standing to represent the interests of individual and collective victims and social harm in any legal procedure, ensuring their right to access justice and compensation in accordance with Article 35 of the UNCAC and international human rights instruments. Provide reparation (material, psychosocial and symbolic), in a cultural and gender-appropriate manner, at the earliest possible stage of both individual and collective damage, including when cases are resolved through settlements or linked to transnational corruption;
  • Advance beneficial ownership transparency through standardised, central registers that are directly accessible to a range of stakeholders within and outside government to better prevent, detect, and combat corruption. Ensure access to beneficial ownership data is based on the needs of data users, such as relevant domestic and foreign authorities, civil society, the media and other relevant actors in the fight against corruption. Use recognised data standards to facilitate the collection, publication and use of the data and support greater impact;
  • Promote the use of user-friendly electronic procurement systems that ensure full transparency and open data at all stages of the contracting cycle from their planning to their delivery, involving the private sector and civil society to monitor for corruption risks and improve the quality of public service delivery to citizens, as well as granting oversight authorities and civil society access to utilise procurement data.  Governments should also have clear provisions in law and practice to promote open tendering and fair criteria for awarding contracts and to prevent conflicts of interest;
  • Promote and advance public access to information, in general, to enhance transparency and accountability of public services and governance by adopting comprehensive access to information laws that align with international standards, and ensure their effective implementation by, among other things, removing any barriers to filing requests, establishing or strengthening independent oversight bodies, and ensuring proactive publication of information relevant to anti-corruption efforts by public bodies;
  • Take proactive steps to advance the implementation of Article 7.3 of the UNCAC on transparency in the funding of political parties and election campaigns by adopting a legal framework for the regulation of political financing that includes but is not limited to (1) regulation on donations, (2) regulation on expenditures, (3) accountability of political parties, (4) addressing the (mis-)use of administrative resources for electoral campaigns, and (5) strengthening of oversight by independent competent bodies;
  • Implement comprehensive whistleblower reporting and protection laws aligned with international best practices and full implementation of Article 33 of the UNCAC, establishing secure internal and external reporting systems for receiving and investigating corruption and retaliation complaints, and ensuring that whistleblower disclosures are protected and that whistleblowers are supported;
  • Recognise the triple-planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, and urgently commit to bolstering UNCAC implementation to prevent and tackle the linkages between environmental crime and corruption, including by strengthening transparency and accountability across the value chain in relevant  sectors, and by strengthening international cooperation to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes. Foster transparency and accountability in climate-related finance mechanisms in order to effectively address corruption risks;
  • Intensify efforts to advance the return of stolen assets in a transparent, participatory, and accountable manner, including by facilitating the involvement of civil society stakeholders in the country of origin and the country of destination; by releasing timely data and documents related to asset recovery actions, and communicating these efforts to the public in the involved countries; and by organising a UNCAC CoSP Special Session before CoSP11 focused on challenges and good practice approaches on asset recovery that includes the participation of non-governmental stakeholders and works towards overcoming barriers in the recovery and return of stolen assets;
  • Emphasise the linkage between gender and corruption, adopt a human-rights-based and inclusive approach to anti-corruption abiding by other international conventions on the topic; recognise and combat gender-specific corruption by criminalising it and enhancing prevention measures; mainstream gender equality and inclusion into all relevant anti-corruption frameworks and efforts; and provide gender-disaggregated data on corruption and anti-corruption efforts;
  • Advance the inclusion and participation of civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders in technical assistance being provided under the UNCAC, both as providers of technical assistance in areas as well as beneficiaries, to advance UNCAC implementation and ensure effective and sustainable reforms;
  • Adhere to Article 13 of UNCAC and facilitate the meaningful participation of civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders in national UNCAC reviews and follow-up actions, in line with good practice;
  • Encourage additional States Parties to sign the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge and the United Kingdom’s Implementation Review Mechanism initiative, and voluntarily commit to higher standards of transparency and inclusion of civil society in national UNCAC reviews and follow-up efforts;
  • Enable inclusive discussions and swiftly agree on the next phase of the UNCAC review mechanism, seeking to improve the effectiveness, transparency and inclusiveness of the review mechanisms, and to ensure that it evaluates progress made in meeting UNCAC commitments and includes follow-up on previous UNCAC review recommendations;
  • Intensify efforts to promote inclusiveness and the meaningful participation of all stakeholder groups in future Conferences, strengthening the attendance of women and youth and marginalised groups;
  • Take swift action to advance the implementation of the resolutions adopted at CoSP10 at the national level and provide financial support to UNODC to support follow-up actions.

Read as PDF

The statement remains open for additional endorsements by civil society organisations that participated in the UNCAC CoSP10. Please email your endorsement (name of organisation, country, name of the representative, email of the representative to [email protected]).