The growing global battle against corruption is finding increasing influence by promoting the link between corruption and human rights. International organizations are pushing the idea that corruption is antithetical to primary rights, such as political and civil rights, but to so-called “secondary” socio-economic rights which derive from economic opportunity, fair distribution of wealth, and related concepts.
The corrupt management of public resources restricts the ability of a government to provide a variety of services, including healthcare, educational and promote general welfare which are essential to realize economic opportunity and social welfare. In addition, corruption weakens democratic institutions and discriminates in the delivery of and access to government services. The economically and socially disadvantaged suffer disproportionately from corruption because they often are dependent on public goods.
Corruption also damages democratic institutions by undermining the legitimacy and pubic support of democratic institutions. As a result, people become discouraged from exercising their civil and political rights. In countries where corruption extends into the judicial system, the lower class has limited ability to vindicate their rights through fair administration of justice by judges, lawyers and related actors.
The global movement against corruption has direct and immediate synergies with the broader human rights movement. Anti-corruption efforts are successful when they approach corruption as a systemic, or institutional issue, rather than one resulting from the conduct of a few individuals. Effective anti-corruption enforcement requires appropriate laws which are fairly enforced, along with governance reforms. Stakeholders inside and outside of the government have to work together to develop a viable legal framework which is fairly administered and transparent. In addition, the success of an anti-corruption movement requires a long-term commitment requiring significant changes in society, a country’s institutions, laws and culture.
Transparency and accountability are important principles for successful anti-corruption strategies as well as a human-rights based approach to development.
There is a mutually reinforcing link between human rights and anti-corruption efforts which presents a wide range of opportunities to further both agendas. Some have argued that systemic corruption is a human rights violation in itself and should be treated as such. This is a definitional issue without any meaningful distinction. Whether the battle against corruption is defined as a fundamental human right or not, there is no doubt that the mutually reinforcing link between anti-corruption and human rights violations is going to continue.
The fight against corruption is not a new issue on the international policy agenda. There is no doubt that 9-11 increased the United States’ focus on protecting foreign governments from destabilizing influences in order to prevent creation of new terrorist havens. Before 9-11, the World Bank and the United Nationals were leading actors in the international anti-corruption movement. The focus grew on multinational companies in the mid-1970s and their conduct in developing countries.
The relationship between human rights and corruption is a relatively new phenomena. It continues to be based on the premise that high levels of corruption inexorably disables a government from attending to its responsibilities to promote and respect the human rights of its citizens. The connection between these two important interests is likely to grow as we see anti-corruption interests merge into significant political movements in countries as we are now witnessing in India.