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By Yury Fedotov,Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The international community has started to fight back and now recognises that this crime is not the cost of doing business, but a dramatic drag on the ability of states and the private sector to prosper.

In early May, I travelled to Nigeria to discuss the issue of drugs, crime and corruption with senior government officials. During my meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, I thanked him for Nigeria’s willingness to work with the international community to confront crime and said I understood how much damage corruption had done to his country.

He replied by asking me for help in the return of the billions of dollars that have been siphoned from his country. My meeting with the Nigerian president reinforced a key conviction of mine that the international community must redouble its efforts to support and assist countries devastated by corruption’s effects. This is especially important in the area of the return of cultural property, as well as the huge amounts of funds stolen from the African continent.

img12Over recent years a series of embarrassing corruption scandals have shown that corruption is not simply a local issue, but a staggeringly complex global challenge that transcends domestic borders. Today, the impact of corruption is so great, and its impact on development so widespread, that there is a need for a revitalised international approach that brings together all nations in the spirit of partnership and cooperation.

International business, outsourcing and o shore banking are now commonplace, and improved technology and travel mean that countries are now more than ever interconnected financially. This creates numerous opportunities for corruption to set down deep roots, but its victims are not necessarily obvious. The negative effects of corruption are significant in all areas of social and economic development. But it is the weak and the vulnerable who suffer disproportionally from such acts.

When corruption strikes, those who can spare the least suffer the most.

The misuse of funds ensures that money needed for education and healthcare is redirected into the hands of the corrupt. In countries that have diffculty providing access to proper medical care, or are struggling to feed their citizens in the wake of droughts and climate change, the disappearance of funds can be a matter of life and death.

It is estimated that the developing world loses as much as US$1 trillion due to corruption. Such an enormous amount demonstrates how necessary it is for the international community to integrate anti-corruption activities into their good governance frameworks and criminal justice systems. The cost to society, however, is not only measured in the funds taken, but also in the damage done to communities, as well as the promotion of equality. Corruption enables organized crime to flourish, and like an acid, eats into weak states and compromises criminal justice systems.

Fortunately, the international community has started to fight back and now recognises that this crime is not the cost of doing business, but a dramatic drag on the ability of states and the private sector to prosper. In 2015, Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development along with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs seek to promote prosperity and eradicate poverty. Goal 16 recognizes that this is not possible without substantially reducing corruption as well as confronting a range of other criminal issues.

Promoting access to justice, peaceful and inclusive societies and effective government based on the rule of law are the inherent principles of Goal 16. The authority of law, and the institutions of government, are often vulnerable to corruption. Fully functioning legal systems are crucial for sustainable development at the national and international levels. Achieving the targets of Goal 16 is, therefore, fundamental to realizing the entire 2030 agenda, and it forms an essential element of the work undertaken by the UN O ce on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

But, if this work is to be successful, and we desperately need it to be, every nation must become a party to and fully implement the UN Convention against Corruption – UNCAC. UNCAC outlines the most comprehensive set of legal commitments states must enforce to tackle corruption. States that adopt UNCAC agree on measures to detect and punish corruption in both the private and public sectors.

UNCAC also provides a unique means of examining the success of a country’s anti-corruption efforts. It provides the framework for an established peer review mechanism that sees countries work together to review each other’s anti-corruption e orts. UNODC also assists states in the recovery of the proceeds of corruption, both domestically and internationally via the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative–StAR.

A partnership between the World Bank and UNODC, StAR works to recover illicit funds and prevent their storage in tax havens. UNODC is also supporting states in implementing UNCAC’s Chapter II on prevention. The Chapter helps states to develop accountable, transparent institutions and legislation and strengthens anticorruption efforts through training and knowledge-based programs.

My experiences in countries such as Nigeria, as well as my work as the head of an organization that has a mission to tackle corruption, leads me to believe that if we are to realise our goal of sustainable development, we must end corruption.

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