3 November 2003


New Instrument Described as New Framework for Action against “Insidious Plague”

NEW YORK, 31 October (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan today on the adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations Convention against Corruption:

Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies.  It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.

This evil phenomenon is found in all countries -- big and small, rich and poor --  but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive.  Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately -- by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign aid and investment.  Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.

I am therefore very happy that we now have a new instrument to address this scourge at the global level.  The adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption sends a clear message that the international community is determined to prevent and control corruption.  It warns the corrupt that betrayal of the public trust will no longer be tolerated.  And it reaffirms the importance of core values, such as honesty, respect for the rule of law, accountability and transparency, in promoting development and making the world a better place for all.

The new Convention is a remarkable achievement, and complements another landmark instrument, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which entered into force just a month ago.  It is balanced, strong and pragmatic, and it offers a new framework for effective action and international cooperation.

The Convention introduces a comprehensive set of standards, measures and rules that all countries can apply, in order to strengthen their legal and regulatory regimes to fight corruption.  It calls for preventive measures and the criminalization of the most prevalent forms of corruption in both public and private sectors.  And it makes a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen.  These provisions -- the first of their kind -- introduce a new fundamental principle, as well as a framework for stronger cooperation between States to prevent, detect, and return the proceeds of corruption.  Corrupt officials will in future find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains.  This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where corrupt high officials have plundered the national wealth, and where new governments badly need resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies.

For the United Nations, the Convention is the culmination of work that started many years ago, when the word “corruption” was hardly ever uttered in official circles.  It took systematic efforts, first at the technical and then gradually at the political level, to put the fight against corruption on the global agenda.  Both the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development offered opportunities for governments to express their determination to attack corruption, and make many more people aware of the devastating effect that corruption has on development.

The Convention is also the result of long and difficult negotiations. Many complex issues and many concerns from different quarters had to be addressed.  It was a formidable challenge to produce, in less than two years, an instrument that reflects all these concerns. All countries had to show flexibility and make concessions.  But we can be proud of the result.

Allow me to congratulate the members of the Bureau of the Ad Hoc Committee for their hard work and leadership, and to pay a special tribute to the Committee’s late Chairman, Ambassador Hector Charry Samper of Colombia, for his wise guidance and his dedication. I am sure you all share my sorrow that he is no longer with us to celebrate this great success.

The adoption of the new Convention is a remarkable achievement.  But let us be clear:  it is only a beginning.  We must build on the momentum achieved to ensure that it enters into force as soon as possible.  I urge all Member States to attend the Signing Conference in Merida, Mexico, in December, and to ratify the Convention at the earliest possible date.

If fully enforced, this new instrument can make a real difference to the quality of life of millions of people around the world.  And by removing one of the biggest obstacles to development, it can help us achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Be assured that the United Nations Secretariat, and in particular the Office on Drugs and Crime, will do whatever it can to support your efforts to eliminate the scourge of corruption from the face of the earth.

It’s a big challenge, but I think together we can make a difference.

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