About the UNCAC
The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) is a legally binding international anti-corruption instrument that provides a unique opportunity to mount a global response to a global problem. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003, it is the first global framework to harmonise anti-corruption efforts worldwide. The convention entered into force in December 2005; as of August 2013, 167 countries have become parties to the UNCAC. The convention is an extraordinary agreement for not only its global reach but also for its extensive and detailed provisions. The UNCAC embodies a comprehensive approach to corruption, recognising the importance of both preventive and punitive measures. It also addresses the cross-border nature of corruption and includes provisions on the recovery of ill-gotten assets. This convention holds great promise for civil society, as it provides a mandate for the participation of citizens and civil society organisations in accountability processes.
The most important aspect about fighting corruption is to prevent it from happening in the first place. An entire chapter of the convention is dedicated to prevention, with measures directed at both the public and private sectors. These include model policies, such as establishing anti-corruption bodies and enhanced transparency in financing election campaigns and political parties. States must aim to ensure that their public services are subject to safeguards that promote efficiency, transparency and recruitment based on merit. Once recruited, public servants should be subject to codes of conduct, requirements for financial and other disclosures and appropriate disciplinary measures. Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements must be established to prevent corruption in critical areas of the public sector, such as the judiciary and in procurement. Those who use public services must expect a high standard of conduct from their public servants. Preventing public corruption also requires attention and effort from all members of society. The convention therefore calls on countries to actively promote the involvement of non-governmental and community-based organizations as well as other elements of civil society in enforcing the convention and raising public awareness of corruption and what can be done about it. Article 5 of the convention enjoins each state party to establish and promote effective practices aimed at preventing corruption.
The convention requires countries to establish criminal and other offences to cover a wide range of acts of corruption if these are not already crimes under domestic law. In some cases, states are legally obliged to establish offences; in other cases, they are required to consider doing so. The convention goes beyond previous instruments of this kind, criminalising not only basic forms of corruption, such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, but also trading in influence and concealing and laundering proceeds of corruption. Offences committed in support of corruption, including money-laundering and obstructing justice, are also dealt with in the convention. Convention offences also address the problematic areas of private-sector corruption.
Countries agreed to cooperate with one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation and prosecution of offenders. Countries are bound by the convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court and to extradite offenders. Countries are also required to take measures to support the tracing, freezing, seizing and confiscating of proceeds from corruption.
In a major breakthrough, countries agreed on asset-recovery provisions, which is an explicit fundamental principle of the convention. This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where high-level corruption has plundered the national wealth, and where resources are badly needed for reconstructing and rehabilitating societies under new governments. Reaching agreement on this chapter involved intensive negotiations, as the needs of countries seeking the illicit assets had to be reconciled with the legal and procedural safeguards of the countries whose assistance is sought.
Several provisions specify how cooperation and assistance are to be rendered. In particular, in the case of embezzlement of public funds, the confiscated property would be returned to the state requesting it. In the case of proceeds of any other offence covered by the convention, the property would be returned following proof of ownership or recognition of the damage caused to a requesting state. In all other cases, priority would be given to the return of confiscated property to the requesting state, to the return of such property to the previous legitimate owners or to compensation of the victims.
Effective asset-recovery provisions will support the efforts of countries to redress the worst effects of corruption while sending a message to corrupt officials that there will be no place to hide their illicit assets. Accordingly, Article 51 provides for the return of assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle of the convention. Article 43 obliges state parties to extend the widest possible cooperation to one another in investigating and prosecuting offences defined in the convention.
As to asset recovery in particular, the article provides inter alia that "In matters of international cooperation, whenever dual criminality is considered a requirement, it shall be deemed fulfilled irrespective of whether the laws of the requested State Party place the offence within the same category of offence or denominate the offence by the same terminology as the requesting State Party, if the conduct underlying the offence for which assistance is sought is a criminal offence under the laws of both States Parties."
Source: UNODC - United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime