New Inter-American Commission Report Analyzes Corruption as Human Rights Problem
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a report on corruption and human rights with the goal of analyzing corruption in the Americas from a human rights perspective, and highlighting the relevant human rights standards at play. [IACHR Press Release (Spanish)] The report from the region’s principal human rights oversight body examines the factual situation and provides an overview of corruption’s multidimensional impact on democracy, the rule of law, inequality, impunity, and the enjoyment of human rights. See IACHR, Corrupción y derechos humanos: Estándares interamericanos (2019) [Spanish only]. In particular, the report analyzes how corruption relates to specific thematic areas that are of interest to the Commission, such as the right to freedom of expression and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as its impact on vulnerable groups. See id. at para. 6. In addition to identifying key recommendations in which the IACHR calls on States to investigate acts of corruption and implement protection mechanisms for members of the press and individuals who denounce and report acts of corruption, among others, the report proposes a roadmap for the development and implementation of comprehensive public policies to address corruption in all levels of government. See id. at paras. 7-11.
Corruption in the Americas
The report builds on the IACHR’s March 2018 Resolution 1/18 on corruption and human rights, in which the IACHR developed a broad concept of corruption, characterizing it as “the abuse or misuse of power, which may be public or private, that displaces the public interest for a private benefit (personal or for a third party) and that weakens both administrative and judicial oversight institutions.” See IACHR, Resolution No. 1/18, Corruption and Human Rights, 2 March 2018. In accordance with this resolution, and considering that corruption is not new to the region and in recent years has multiplied to achieve worrying levels, the report analyzes the reach of corruption in the Americas and how it impacts the enjoyment of human rights, as well as the necessary strategies to confront it. See IACHR, Corrupción y derechos humanos: Estándares interamericanos, paras. 25-26, 88, 90-92.
According to the report’s analysis, corruption in the Americas impacts all human rights: civil and political rights, and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. See id. at para. 25. The IACHR places particular emphasis on the impact of corruption in the guarantee of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, noting that corruption in the management of public resources limits the progressive realization of these rights. See id. at paras. 147, 154. With respect to civil and political rights, the IACHR emphasizes the close relationship between freedom of expression and a democratic society, and clarifies the impact of corruption on freedom of the press and the public’s access to information. See id. at paras. 183-184, 217. Moreover, the report notes that corruption takes various forms and is perpetrated by various actors, including public and private agents, such as public officials, businesses and corporations, and individuals involved in organized crime. See id. at paras. 94-97, 99. The report highlights that organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, often results in high levels of violence and corruption when State agents succumb to the demands of organized crime, limiting the adequate administration of justice in States. See id. at paras. 99-101.
The report indicates that certain groups tend to be particularly vulnerable to human rights violations related to corruption given their role in attempting to eradicate this phenomenon in the region. See id. at para. 395. These include human rights defenders, journalists, environmentalists, and witnesses, among others. See id. Additionally, corruption has a serious impact on individuals and populations who have historically been discriminated against. For example, persons deprived of liberty, women and children, migrants, Indigenous populations, and members of the LGBTI community. See id. at para. 432.
The report identifies institutional and cultural factors that facilitate or foster corruption, and that must be taken into account when implementing strategies to combat corruption. See id. at paras. 116-118. Institutional factors include weaknesses in States’ institutions, characterized by the institutions’ inability to cover all of the relevant territory and fulfill their mandates; concentration of power in areas with high economic or social impact; high degree of discretion in State agents’ decision-making processes; lack of transparency; and, a high level of impunity in the region. See id. at para. 116. Cultural factors that encourage or result in corruption include a general tolerance for corrupt practices that often normalizes them, and a lack of respect for and trust in the rule of law. See id. at para. 117. The IACHR observes that when some corrupt practices are normalized and only their extreme forms are rejected, eradicating corruption becomes extremely difficult. See id.
International Standards & State Obligations
In accordance with the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of Human Rights, the report identifies the relevant international legal framework and State obligations with respect to corruption. See id. at paras. 249, 275. Under the American Convention, States have an obligation to respect and guarantee the rights recognized in the Convention; adopt measures to prevent acts of corruption that may result in human rights violations, including measures that protect witnesses and individuals who report corrupt acts; investigate and prosecute acts of corruption to prevent impunity; uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination, which corruption directly impacts, when guaranteeing the exercise of rights; and, provide an effective remedy to victims of corruption, including guarantees of non-repetition. See id. at paras. 250, 253-262, 270-273. In general, States have an obligation to address the systemic factors previously mentioned that allow and result in corruption. See id. at para. 514.
Similar obligations exist under the American Declaration. The IACHR highlights that States must act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish, and provide redress for all human rights violations. See id. 281-282. These duties extend to cases of corruption that result in human rights violations of individuals within the jurisdiction of American States. See id. at para. 283.
Acknowledging that corruption negatively impacts the enjoyment of human rights, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations, the IACHR makes seven specific recommendations to States:
(1) implement a victim-centered approach to the fight against corruption, keeping the equality and non-discrimination principles at the forefront and ensuring that victims are part of the analysis, assessment, design, and implementation of mechanisms and public policies aimed at preventing and eradicating corruption;
(2) address the disproportionate impact of corruption on women, the LGBTI community, children and adolescents, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, migrants, people deprived of liberty, people with disabilities, and the elderly;
(3) conduct efficient investigations;
(4) implement protection mechanisms for witnesses, victims, and family members, with input from human rights defenders, experts, and civil society;
(5) implement specific protection measures for the press and human rights defenders working to eradicate corruption or reporting on it;
(6) guarantee that witnesses are protected and don’t suffer from retaliation; and,
(7) adopt measures to achieve effective transnational cooperation for corruption cases that are of an international nature.
See id. at para. 524.
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