United Nations Convention against Corruption
- The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) is a landmark, international
anti-corruption treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003. It represents a
remarkable achievement: a global response to a global problem. With 181 countries bound by
UNCAC so far (as of 4 May 2017), it is unique not only in its worldwide coverage but also in the
extent of its provisions, recognising the importance of both preventive and punitive measures.
It also addresses the cross-border nature of corruption with provisions on international
cooperation and on the return of the proceeds of corruption. States Parties (countries that
have ratified the Convention) are also obliged to help each other to prevent and combat
corruption through technical assistance (defined broadly to include financial and human
resources, training, and research). The Convention further calls for the participation of citizens
and civil society organizations in accountability processes and underlines the importance of
citizens’ access to information. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna serves as
secretariat for the UNCAC.
What does implementation of UNCAC actually entail; what are its provisions? What follows is
a description of the substantive chapters of the Convention, as well as an analysis of what
UNCAC can and cannot do. It is important to note that many of UNCAC’s provisions are
mandatory, while others are either ‘strongly encouraged’ or optional (see annex for an
overview of mandatory provisions). In addition, most provisions of the Convention make
some reference to working within the principles of a State’s domestic law, which allows
significant room for different interpretations of the Convention’s requirements in any given
country. The key chapters of the Convention are described below, including how their
implementation will be monitored.
States Parties are obliged to adopt coordinated policies that prevent corruption and
designate a ‘body or bodies’ to coordinate and oversee their implementation.
The preventive policies covered by the Convention include measures for both the public and
private sectors. These include, among others, transparent procurement and sound financial
management, a merit-based civil service including clear conflict of interest regimes, effective
access to public information, auditing and other standards for private companies,
an independent judiciary, active involvement of civil society in efforts to prevent and combat
corruption, and measures to prevent money-laundering.
Criminalization and law enforcement
States Parties must criminalise bribery (both the giving of an undue advantage to a national,
international or foreign public official and the acceptance of an undue advantage by a
national public official), as well as embezzlement of public funds. Other offences that States
Parties are required to criminalise include obstruction of justice and the concealment,
conversion or transfer of criminal proceeds. Sanctions extend to those who participate in or
attempt to commit corruption offences. Acts that states are encouraged – but not required –
to criminalise include acceptance of bribes by foreign and international public officials,
trading in influence, abuse of function, illicit enrichment, bribery and embezzlement within
the private sector, money laundering and the concealment of illicit assets.
States Parties are obliged to assist each other in cross-border criminal matters. This includes,
for example, gathering and transferring evidence of corruption for use in court. The
requirement of dual criminality (that the alleged crime for which mutual legal assistance is
sought must be criminal in both the requesting and requested countries), which has
traditionally hindered cooperation, is loosened. Cooperation in criminal matters is
mandatory. In civil and administrative matters, it must be considered.
A ‘fundamental principle’ of the Convention, and one of its main innovations, is the right to
recovery of stolen public assets. According to many observers, Chapter V is the main “selling
point” of the Convention, and the reason why so many developing countries have ratified.
The UNCAC provisions lay a framework for countries to adapt both their civil and criminal law
in order to facilitate tracing, freezing, forfeiting, and returning funds obtained through
corrupt activities. The requesting state will in most cases receive the recovered funds as long
as it can prove ownership. In some cases the funds may be returned directly to individual
Technical assistance and information exchange
In the Convention, technical assistance refers generally to support aimed at helping countries
comply with the UNCAC’s provisions. Chapter VI includes provisions on training, material and
human resources, research, and information sharing. The Convention encourages the
provision of training on topics such as investigative methods, planning and developing
strategic anti-corruption policies, preparing requests for mutual legal assistance, public
financial management, and methods used to protect victims and witness in criminal cases.
States Parties should also consider helping each other conduct evaluations and studies on
the forms, causes and costs of corruption in specific contexts, with a view to developing
better policies for combating the problem.
Review of implementation
The decision on a mechanism for review of implementation of the UNCAC was taken at the
Third Conference of States Parties in Doha, Qatar, in November 2009. The States Parties
decided to set up a multi-staged peer review mechanism involving the review of each State Party by two peers. The review process is supposed to take no more than six months for any
given country at any given stage of the process. The mechanisms started operation in July
2010 when the Implementation Review Group that oversees the review mechanism met for
the first time. To cover all countries, the process is divided in two five-year cycles. UNCAC
chapters III and IV have been reviewed in the first cycle (2010–2014), while compliance with
chapters II and V will be assessed during the second (2015– 2019). Thus, review on corruption
prevention measures – a focus for many donor countries – will happen at a later stage.