Challenges and Measures to Prevent and Combat Corruption and Strengthen International Cooperation - General Assembly, 32nd Special Session, 1st Plenary Meeting (2-4 June 2021)

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02-Jun-2021 02:51:22
Opening special session on corruption, General Assembly adopts political declaration with road maps to help countries tackle bribery, money-laundering, abuse of power.

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Spotlighting the devastating cost of corruption to economies, societies and individuals around the globe — in particular during times of crisis and painstaking recovery — the General Assembly today adopted a sweeping Political Declaration with blueprints to help countries tackle bribery, money‑laundering, abuse of power and a raft of related crimes.

The landmark Political Declaration, titled “Our common commitment to effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation” (document A/S-32/L.1), was adopted by consensus at the outset of the 193-member Assembly’s thirty-second special session, which runs until 4 June.

By its terms, Member States expressed concern about the serious threats posed by corruption to the stability and security of societies, as well as the phenomenon’s potential to undermine the institutions and values of democracy and jeopardize sustainable development and the rule of law. They recognized the negative impact corruption can have on access to basic services and human rights, while noting that it may also exacerbate poverty and inequality and disproportionately affect the world’s most disadvantaged people.

The Assembly noted that the loss of resources caused by corruption may constitute a substantial proportion of State resources — with a particularly negative impact on developing countries — and that those challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing effects of COVID-19 pandemic. Reaffirming support for the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the bodies created under it, as well as for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it committed to preventing and combating corruption and strengthening international cooperation to fight it, while respecting the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.

Pledging to step up efforts to promote and implement global anti‑corruption obligations and commitments, and to demonstrate the necessary political will, Member States also made a series of commitments in seven key areas: prevention; criminalization and law enforcement; international cooperation; asset recovery; technical assistance; anti-corruption as a driver of sustainable development; and advancing a forward-looking anti-corruption agenda.

Among other things, they committed to fostering a culture of accountability, transparency, legality, integrity and fairness in the public sector, including by applying codes of conduct and other ethical standards for all public officials. They stressed the role of supreme audit institutions and other oversight bodies, pledged to promote transparency and committed to identify and manage conflicts of interest — as well as address the root causes, vulnerabilities and risk factors leading to corruption. They also agreed to take measures to prevent financial systems from being abused to hide, move and launder assets stemming from corruption.

By other terms of the Political Declaration, the Assembly urged States parties to the Convention to establish as criminal offences the bribery of national, foreign or international public officials. They committed to helping build the capacity of law enforcement and judicial authorities for the successful investigation, prosecution and adjudication of corruption and related offences, and to provide a safe and enabling environment to those who expose, report and fight corruption. They also encouraged States parties to remove barriers to the recovery of assets and ensure that domestic legal frameworks allow States parties to initiate legal proceedings to claim property acquired through the commission of an offence established by the Convention.

Reiterating the central role of the Convention and its Conference of the States Parties in helping to boost States parties’ capacity to combat corruption, the Assembly encouraged the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to develop and share a “comprehensive, scientifically sound and objective statistical framework”, grounded in methodological work and reliable data sources, to support States in those efforts. Member States also committed to ensuring that corruption safeguards are integral elements of their efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that measures are in place to prevent and combat corruption when responding to or recovering from future crises.

Opening the special session, Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said corruption corrodes public trust, weakens the rule of law, seeds conflict, destabilizes peacebuilding efforts, undermines human rights, impedes progress on gender equality and hinders efforts to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda. It also hits the poor, the marginalized and the most vulnerable the hardest. For all those reasons, the world cannot — and will not — allow corruption to continue. “Corruption thrives in a crisis,” he said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic put unprecedented strain on supply chains, systems and infrastructure around the world. Gaps inadvertently created as countries mobilized to save lives have been exploited by the most corrupt actors. Against that backdrop, he urged leaders to take concrete steps against corruption and prevent it in the inevitable next global crisis.

Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said recent popular protests have sent the clear message that people will not tolerate cynical, corrupt practices. Stressing that corruption in public service delivery increases costs, lowers quality and distorts the allocation of resources, she said the vulnerable bear the brunt, as bribery makes basic services available only to those able to pay. Inadequate oversight and transparency during the COVID-19 crisis has led to the diversion of funds from those most in need. Describing today’s special session as a chance to chart a different path forward, she said the United Nations System Common Position on Corruption — designed to coordinate the Organization’s support for Member States — sets out measures to that end. “Expectations are high,” she stressed, urging Governments to lead by example.

Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, agreed that bold global action against corruption is needed more than ever. “The COVID-19 crisis has derailed development progress, while corruption, bribery and illicit financial flows have stolen away resources when we can least afford it,” she said. In every region of the world, corruption has compromised emergency responses, health care, education, environmental conservation and job creation, leaving countries less equipped to recover and leaving ever more people behind. The Assembly’s Political Declaration acknowledges both the pervasive nature of corruption and the need for greater political will to step up the fight against a phenomenon that shows little sign of retreating. “As our still-fragile societies take steps towards a more resilient future, we must reject cynical profiteering and exploitation of public trust,” she emphasized.

Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said corruption stifles opportunities for the poor, condemning them to a life of misery and inequity. An estimated $2.6 trillion — or 5 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) — is lost annually to corruption. Developing countries alone lose $1.26 trillion, which is nine times all official development assistance (ODA). “Allowing corruption and illicit financial flows to continue in these circumstances is nothing short of criminal,” he said, calling for robust national and international action to stop the bleeding. Among other things, penalties should be imposed on lawyers, accountants and all those enabling such behavior, safe havens must be eliminated, and a moratorium should be imposed on all investor-State disputes where corruption is clearly visible, he said.

Also delivering opening remarks was Serena Ibrahim, Youth Forum Representative and Founder of Youth against Corruption, who described herself as “a girl born in a world where systemic corruption is a constant threat”. Corruption has hampered the dreams and aspirations of youth living in countries which are most vulnerable to it, forcing some to put their integrity up for sale in order to survive. Speaking on behalf of the hundreds of young people who took part in the 2021 special session Youth Forum, she said they came together to discuss the devastating effects of corruption on the young generations, consider ways that youth can be more engaged in preventing and combating corruption and identify recommendations for the special session’s discussions. Among those, she spotlighted the need to give youth a greater role in fighting corruption and ensuring a safe environment for them to act as whistle-blowers.

Harib Saeed al Amimi, President of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, also took the floor to report on that body’s preparatory process in the lead up to the Assembly’s special session.

Taking up a range of procedural matters, the Assembly took note of information concerning the participation in the thirty-second special session by Member States currently in arrears (document A/S-32/3) and decided to allow those States to take part and vote in the session. It decided that the Holy See and the State of Palestine would participate in the special session in their capacities as observer States, and the European Union would participate as an observer. It also adopted the provisional agenda for the special session (document A/S-32/1).

Members elected Volkan Bozkir of Turkey as President of the thirty-second special session by acclamation and decided that the Vice-Presidents of the special session would be the same as those of the Assembly’s seventy-fifth regular session. Similarly, it decided that the Chairpersons of the Main Committees of the seventy-fifth regular session would serve in the same capacity at the special session.

The special session also began its general debate. Participating were Heads of State and Government, ministers and other high-level officials from Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Serbia, North Macedonia, Latvia, Belgium, China, Germany, Albania, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, South Africa, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland, Guyana, Brazil, Austria, Iran, Croatia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Monaco, Italy, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Mauritania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Malta, Romania, Netherlands, Armenia, France, Belarus, Cuba, Angola and Paraguay, as well as the European Union.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 3 June, to continue its thirty-second special session.

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