2 October 2003
Consensus Reached on UN Convention against Corruption
High-Level Signing Conference Planned for December in Mérida, Mexico
VIENNA, 2 October (UN Information Service) -- After almost two years of negotiations, Member States of the United Nations (UN) finalised yesterday the text of a new international treaty, the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The Convention was agreed on by an Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly in December 2000. The Committee was serviced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, Austria. The Convention will be submitted to the General Assembly, which is expected to adopt it and open it for signature by Member States in Mérida, Mexico, from 9-11 December 2003. The Convention will enter into force when it has been ratified by 30 countries.
UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, sent a message congratulating the Ad Hoc Committee on successfully concluding the negotiation process. "It is particularly heartening that you were able to complete this process in less than two years," Mr. Annan said. He paid tribute to the late Colombian Ambassador Héctor Charry Samper for his leadership, dedication and expertise in chairing the Committee.
"This Convention can make a real difference to the quality of life of millions of people around the world," Mr. Annan said, urging Member States to continue demonstrating their commitment with their signature at the Mérida Conference in December 2003.
"The agreement reached on the Convention against Corruption shows the international community's determination to do something concrete against corruption. It is a Convention with strong enforcement power, a true global response to the global challenge posed by corruption worldwide," said Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, in Vienna today.
At the core of the UN discussions was the search for an appropriate balance in addressing key issues such as definitions of scope, prevention, criminalization, technical assistance and monitoring mechanisms, asset recovery and international cooperation. The result is an instrument that will improve the ability of States to prevent and fight corruption.
"A major breakthrough in the negotiations was the agreement reached on the return of assets obtained through corruption. This is now a fundamental international principle. The Convention spells out the measures for prevention and detection of proceeds stolen from a country because of corruption," Mr. Costa said.
The Convention will engage the crime prevention and criminal justice systems of all countries. The treaty recognizes that the problem of corruption goes beyond crime. Corruption impoverishes countries and deprives their citizens of good governance. It destabilises economic systems, even of whole regions. Organised crime, terrorism and other illegal activities flourish. In many countries, corruption erodes basic public functions and the quality of life of people. Bribery, for example, is universally regarded as a crime, but it also reflects socio-economic problems that require broad-based preventive measures and the involvement of society at large.
Highlights of the Convention include:
Prevention. Corruption can be prosecuted after the fact, but first and foremost, it requires prevention. An entire chapter of the Convention is dedicated to prevention, with measures directed at both the public and private sectors. These include model preventive policies, such as the establishment of anticorruption bodies and enhanced transparency in the financing of election campaigns and political parties. States must endeavour to ensure that their public services are subject to safeguards that promote efficiency, transparency and recruitment based on merit. Once recruited, public servants should be subject to codes of conduct, requirements for financial and other disclosures, and appropriate disciplinary measures. Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements are established for the prevention of corruption, in the particularly critical areas of the public sector, such as the judiciary and public procurement. Those who use public services must expect a high standard of conduct from their public servants. Preventing public corruption also requires an effort from all members of society at large. For these reasons, the Convention calls on countries to promote actively the involvement of non-governmental and community-based organizations, as well as other elements of civil society, and to raise public awareness of corruption and what can be done about it.
Criminalization. The Convention requires countries to establish criminal and other offences to cover a wide range of acts of corruption, if these are not already crimes under domestic law. In some cases, States are legally obliged to establish offences; in other cases, in order to take into account differences in domestic law, they are required to consider doing so. The Convention goes beyond previous instruments of this kind, criminalizing not only basic forms of corruption such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, but also trading in influence and the concealment and "laundering" of the proceeds of corruption. Offences committed in support of corruption, including money-laundering and obstructing justice, are also dealt with. Convention offences also deal with the problematic areas of private-sector corruption.
International cooperation. Countries agreed to cooperate with one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation, and the prosecution of offenders. Countries are bound by the Convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court, to extradite offenders. Countries are also required to undertake measures which will support the tracing, freezing, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of corruption.
Asset recovery. In a major breakthrough, countries agreed on asset-recovery, which is stated explicitly as "a fundamental principle of the Convention…" This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where high-level corruption has plundered the national wealth, and where resources are badly needed for reconstruction and the rehabilitation of societies under new governments. Reaching agreement on this chapter has involved intensive negotiations, as the needs of countries seeking the illicit assets had to be reconciled with the legal and procedural safeguards of the countries whose assistance is sought. Several provisions specify how cooperation and assistance will be rendered. In particular, in the case of embezzlement of public funds, the confiscated property would be returned to the state requesting it; in the case of proceeds of any other offence covered by the Convention, the property would be returned providing the proof of ownership or recognition of the damage caused to a requesting state; in all other cases, priority consideration would be given to the return of confiscated property to the requesting state, to the return of such property to the prior legitimate owners or to compensation of the victims. Effective asset-recovery provisions will support the efforts of countries to redress the worst effects of corruption while sending at the same time, a message to corrupt officials that there will be no place to hide their illicit assets.
Implementation mechanisms. The adoption of the Convention by the General Assembly in the weeks ahead will be followed by a period in which countries will develop legislative and administrative measures, and ratify the Convention. When the Convention has 30 ratifications, it will come into force. To promote and review implementation, a Conference of the States Parties is established. The Conference will meet regularly and serve as a forum for reviewing the implementation by States Parties and facilitating activities required by the Convention.
The first session of the Ad Hoc Committee was held in January 2002. At its first and second sessions, the Committee concluded the first reading of the draft Convention. At the third and fourth sessions, the second reading was completed. At the fifth session, in March 2003, the Committee reached a preliminary agreement on a significant number of provisions.
The sixth session lasted a week longer than the previous five, including night sessions. After a debate lasting through to 3:50 a.m. on Saturday, 9 August 2003, delegates from the 128 Member States decided to continue working on the Convention on Corruption's final details in a short, three-day seventh session, which concluded on 1 October, 2003.
* ** *