UN Anti-Corruption Body Resists Transparency

11 November 2011

The UN Convention Against Corruption has decided not to let civil society groups observe the meetings of a key body..

At a recent five-day meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, the issue of transparency was much debated, but  the result “was not a good conclusion,” Gillian Dell of Transparency International said in an interview with FreedomInfo.org.

Russia led an effort to prevent civil society groups from observing the meetings of the key body charged with overseeing the assessment of country anti-corruption efforts. The outcome leaves CSO representatives outside the meetings of the Implementation Review Group, with a promise of briefings later.

“The decision not to include civil society leaves things dangerously open-ended during a critical period in which the convention review process is still being shaped and when there is a need in the region and beyond for a strong and inclusive convention,” according to an Oct. 28 statement by Slagjana Taseva, chair of the UNCA Coalition a network of 310 civil society organizations.

The Coalition, with support from some Latin American countries, argued that the applicable rules of procedure, as interpreted by the UN Office of Legal Affairs, supported their position on access.

A peer-to-peer review process begun in 2010 is just getting underway and CSOs would like to participate in the development of the country reviews and the oversight of the process.

However, a coalition led by Russia, with support from countries including China and Iran, sought to interpret Rule 17 of the rules of procedure, adopted last year, to prevent CSO observer status. An advisory legal opinion from the UN considered supportive by the CSOs was called ambiguous under the Russian interpretation. 

Hours of negotiations ensued. The European Union delegation supported a temporary arrangement to allow observer status with a later review of the matter.  A group of Latin American counties (including Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico) largely supported the CSO position.

The outcome was “extremely disappointing,” Dell said, and contrasted with the frequent rhetoric by government representatives about the positive role of civil society in the Arab Spring.

“The UN had a change to shine and be on the cutting edge of inclusion and participation and it missed that boat,” she said.

Despite the setback on access and other procedural deficiencies in the review process, Dell said CSOs hope to encourage the establishment of good practices for the peer-to-peer reviews. Among other things, CSOs should be consulted by the two peer countries that will do the reviews, she said. And the full assessment reports should be published at the country level. Some countries are suspicious of the process, she said, hoping that they “can be won over to see that the system will not bite them.”

There are also concerns that the documents involved are not being disclosed. Under the rules, only an executive summary of country reviews will be published. Six summaries have been issued so far. Only one country, Finland, has posted the full report.

One small advance is that the secretariat for UNCAC has posted CSO material on its website ahead of the Marrakesh conference, which as Oct. 24-28. 

The UNCAC is the most comprehensive global legal framework for combating corruption. It is a binding agreement by 154 states parties on standards and requirements for preventing, detecting, investigating and sanctioning corruption.

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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