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General Assembly Special Session on Corruption

Note:  A complete summary of today’s General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Opening Remarks

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 for Sustainable Development.  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.  Calling on parties to redouble their efforts and build upon progress already achieved, he said United Nations Member States have adopted the Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime and against Corruption and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.  They also convened the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The Political Declaration to be adopted today builds upon that existing architecture, he said, noting that it will provide the international community with a road map for countering corruption in the future.  It will also help guide countries as they work to fight money-laundering and illicit financial flows — which derail progress on sustainable development — and in critical efforts to recover assets.  “Corruption thrives in a crisis,” he said, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on supply chains, infrastructure and systems around the world.  As the number of COVID-19 positive cases increased, Governments responded rapidly, efforts which undoubtedly saved lives.  However, they inadvertently led to gaps in compliance, transparency, oversight and accountability, which were exploited by the most corrupt actors.  The Assembly’s special session comes at a critical moment as humanity works to roll out a complex global vaccination programme.

Against that backdrop, he urged policymakers to leverage the special session to take concrete measures to prevent and address corruption, emphasizing that recovering from the present global economic downturn will require concerted efforts and vigilance to end corruption.  “We must learn from this experience, because the next crisis will come, and we will need to be prepared to meet it when it does,” he stressed.

AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the international community is beginning the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals behind on its promise, as inequalities and injustices laid bare by the pandemic are further compounded by corruption.  “This special session acknowledges the need for Member States to restore public trust and faith in the social contract by taking concrete action to eliminate corruption,” she assured.

Recent social protests have sent the clear message that people will not tolerate cynical, corrupt practices, she said.  They are demanding transformation of legal, political, economic and social structures that have long been indifferent to accountability and transparency.  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.  Corruption also disproportionately impacts women, limiting their access to public resources, information and decision-making.  It fosters organized crime and the exploitation of natural resources.

Moreover, she said inadequate oversight and transparency during the COVID-19 crisis has led to the diversion of funds from those most in need, while those who unveil corrupt practices risk retaliation and reprisal.  The special session is an opportunity to chart a different path forward through a transparent, inclusive and accountable approach to governance that will strengthen the social contract between State and people.  The United Nations System Common Position on Corruption — designed to coordinate the Organization’s support for Member States — sets out measures that will integrate anti-corruption in national, local and sectoral work more effectively.  “Expectations are high,” she said.  “I encourage you to lead by example, by realizing the commitments you have made in the draft declaration, with the support of the United Nations system.”

Remarks by the President of the Economic and Social Council to come.

HARIB SAEED AL AMIMI, President of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, reported on progress achieved during the Conference’s preparatory process leading up to the special session.  Among other things, three intersessional meetings were convened with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders, focusing on law enforcement, criminalization, international cooperation, asset recovery, beneficial ownership and the role of the private sector.  They also considered measures to tackle impunity and ways to harness the full potential of education and technology in preventing and combating corruption.

Emphasizing the inclusive and open-ended nature of the preparatory process — which included contributions from Member States, United Nations system entities, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental groups and the private sector — he said participants drafted and approved by consensus the Political Declaration before the Assembly today.  In addition, the Conference held its eighth session from 16 to 20 December 2019, adopting 14 resolutions and 1 decision.  Those covered a diverse range of areas including asset recovery, safeguarding sport from corruption and enhancing the effectiveness of anti-corruption bodies.  The Conference adopted the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which focused on enhancing collaboration between the supreme audit institutions and anticorruption bodies to more effectively prevent and fight corruption.  In that vein, the United Arab Emirates recently committed $5.4 million to support the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to implement the Abu Dhabi Declaration, he said.

GHADA WALY, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said bold global action against corruption is needed more than ever.  Welcoming the firm commitment demonstrated by Member States at the first-ever General Assembly special session against corruption, she declared:  “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.”  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.

“Now, as our still-fragile societies take steps towards a more resilient future, we must reject cynical profiteering and exploitation of public trust,” she stressed.  Rebuilding must be done with full transparency, accountability and integrity in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  The comprehensive and forward-looking approach enshrined in the Political Declaration before the Assembly acknowledges both the pervasive nature of corruption, and the need for greater political will and practical action to step up the fight “against an enemy that shows little sign of retreating”.  Pledging the support of UNODC, she welcomed the Political Declaration’s recognition of the United Nations Convention against Corruption as the universal instrument against corruption, as well as the need for research and better measurement of the phenomenon and its impact.

Spotlighting a decisive new tool in the global anti-corruption arsenal, she said the newly launched Globe Network — for which UNODC serves as secretariat — will link up various anti-corruption law‑enforcement authorities to pursue more agile cross-border cooperation and proactive information‑sharing.  “We have the opportunity to reinvigorate and innovate, to strengthen good governance and the rule of law, so we can tackle present problems and equip future generations to meet the challenges to come,” she said, expressing her hope that 2021 will be remembered as a turning point when Member States and their partners rose together to combat corruption, restore trust and generate real change for a fairer world.

SERENA IBRAHIM, Youth Forum Representative and Founder of Youth against Corruption, 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 from 93 countries and 93 civil society groups 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.

“We call upon you, our world leaders, to prioritize the fight against corruption and ensure that citizens’ well-being and equal access to basic services are top priorities in your national agendas, strategies and visions,” she said.  To that end, she urged leaders to prioritize education on integrity and anti‑corruption; give youth a greater role in the intergenerational fight against corruption at the global level; invest more in innovative anti-corruption solutions, including through emerging and innovative technologies; and ensure a safe environment for youth to act as whistle-blowers, watchdogs and national monitors.

Among additional recommendations, she called for efforts to create youth agencies to enhance collaboration; ensure judicial independence and effective separation of powers; strengthen transparency and accountability in health care procurement, including on COVID-19 vaccines; guarantee media independence and strengthen civil society; and restore broken trust in elected officials.  Finally, she underlined the need for more transparency in the United Nations Conference against Corruption Implementation Review Mechanism, stressing that publishing full country review reports is crucial to hold Governments accountable to commitments they have made.

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