The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides the legal framework that countries use to fight corruption. It dates from 2003 and every two years there is a Conference of States Parties where the signatories — there are now 177 — meet to discuss UNCAC implementation. For the first time at this year’s meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia (2-6 November) there was a plenary debate about the role of civil society.
There is disagreement over whether or not civil society has a part to play in monitoring how UNCAC is implemented, even though Article 13 specifically calls for civil society participation.
Although some countries spoke in favour of civil society (including Finland, Switzerland, UK, and US), and some pledged to support the UNCAC Coalition/Transparency International Transparency Pledge, a number of countries believe UNCAC relates only to governments and civil society should not be involved (including, Bolivia, China, Cuba, and Ecuador).
A representative of Russian civil society suggested that well-funded transparency NGOs had too strong a role in the debate.
The following is in an except from the speech made (in Russian) by Elena Panfilova, vice-chair of Transparency International, during the plenary debate on why civil society is an important partner in the fight against corruption.
With all respect to the rules and procedure of the Convention and the Conference, it is now time to make a step forward in involving civil society into the Conference work. Civil society participation in the implementation review mechanism and the work of the Conference is not only a natural development, but also a way to increase the legitimacy and credibility of the implementation review results for citizens who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries of fight against corruption.
Contrary to what some states parties say, there are a lot of professional anti-corruption civil society organisations. Countries that resist involving civil society into the implementation review mechanism and the work of the Convention are very often those where the freedom of civil society organisations and human rights are undermined.
I urge these states to reconsider their position on the ability of NGOs to participate in anti-corruption activities and allow them to speak out freely on all UNCAC-related questions.
I would like to turn your special attention to the issue of grand corruption. It is exactly in those countries where the problem of grand corruption is most unsolved that anti-corruption work is stagnating.
In the Transparency International submission that we distributed among the participants of this Conference we call upon all states parties to consider the possibility of starting to develop legal instruments to deal with concealment of proceeds of corruption by high-level government officials, as well as develop a framework for international cooperation on this issue.
In the 104 countries where Transparency International chapters are based we see rich opportunities for active participation of civil society organisations, Transparency International national chapters and our partners in anti-corruption work on all levels.
For our part we pledge to develop expert recommendations and mechanisms on all issues mentioned above, and confirm our readiness and ability to participate on a professional level in the UNCAC work.
These remarks were kindly translated by Anna Koval