Human rights and corruption are not always connected as being integral parts of the same power game of abuses – political, economic, social and cultural. Yet the ties between them have been growing stronger for too long as corruption is increasingly used as a means and ends to human rights violations:
- The stealing of oil revenues from the Niger Delta to fund the lavish lifestyles of local officials instead of schools needed by communities.
- The deadly silencing of anti-corruption advocates in Burundi, Guatemala and Sri Lanka for their public criticism of the government and big business.
- The siphoning off of income from poor families in Bangladesh, Mexico and countless other countries through bribes paid to use ‘free’ health clinics.
These daily realities are reflected in the findings of a report that the International Council on Human Rights Policy has produced in partnership with Transparency International. Entitled Corruption and Human Rights: Making the Connection, the report provides an important conceptual basis for aligning the work of both movements.
When accountability mechanisms to counter corruption are weak or non-existent, it becomes too easy for human rights violations to occur. The TI 2009 Global Corruption Barometer, which measures citizens’ opinions and experiences of corruption, found that nearly one in four citizens who came into contact with the police had paid a bribe. Corruption at this level can begin a chain of human rights violations that obstruct every step in the law enforcement and justice process. Imagine being arrested and held in jail for the ‘crime’ of simply refusing to pay a bribe. In many countries across all continents, this scenario is frequent and marks the beginning of a battle to defend their civil rights in corrupt courts and a dysfunctional justice system.
Preventing this cycle of abuses from starting begins with having the rights laws in place and the political will to implement them. The obligations of states to protect, respect and fulfill human rights are spelled out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, whose framework has been expanded through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as subsequent international laws. Since entering into force in December 2005, the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) has provided the legal reference point for tackling the broad range of corruption-related offences that require preventive and corrective measures.
Linking anti-corruption and human rights frameworks in practice requires revealing the commonalities between the movements and recognising the potent force that corruption assumes in facilitating, perpetuating and institutionalising human rights violations. This new report brings us closer to achieving this clarity.