20th Anniversary of UN Convention against Corruption – Remarks as Delivered by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate
Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Excellencies, esteemed colleagues, honored guests, thank you for the remarkable opportunity to address you today, and a special thanks to UNODC and ED Waly for all they do every day to support this treaty.
We all know that corruption undermines stable, secure, and functioning societies. It has a devastating impact on individual lives, especially on women and other underrepresented groups; weakens democratic institutions; degrades the rule of law; perpetuates violent conflict; undermines markets; and continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and economies of our countries. Indeed, the construction of the Sustainable Development Goals reflected the negative impact of Corruption across all areas by enshrining anti-corruption in SDG 16.
President Biden has said that strengthening the resilience of rights-respecting democracies is one of the defining challenges of our era. Given corruption’s corrosive role in undermining democracy and the legitimacy of democratic governance, the United States has made combatting corruption a priority, committing to lead by example and to work in partnership with other countries, civil society, and the private sector.
This priority is reflected in the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, adopted just under two years ago. The Strategy places special emphasis on the transnational dimensions of the challenges posed by corruption, while also reinforcing the importance of coordinating with diverse stakeholders. Our Strategy therefore promotes the ability of civil society, media, and the private sector to prevent corruption and push for accountability.
No country can fight corruption alone. One pillar of the U.S. Strategy centers on preserving and strengthening the multilateral anti-corruption architecture, a cornerstone of which is the UN Convention against Corruption.
As we celebrate 20 years of the Convention, and take stock of how far we’ve come and how much farther we must go to realize societies free from corruption, the United States is proud to join the list of countries, including Jordan, Indonesia, Qatar, Morocco, Panama, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt as host to the Conference of State Parties to the Convention in Atlanta this December.
In taking stock of the Convention after 20 years of implementation, the United States seeks to reaffirm a core tenet of the fight against corruption – accountability. Our treaty obligations and multilateral commitments will remain just words on a page if we are not constantly working to hold corrupt actors accountable for their crimes.
Therefore, in the custom of our predecessor hosts of the Conference, and in the tradition of the Sharm El Sheik Declaration, the Abu Dhabi Declaration, Marrakesh Declaration, and others, the United States has put forward the Atlanta Declaration to Promote Accountability in its Many Forms in the Fight against Corruption, which we hope to see adopted by consensus by the Conference in Atlanta.
Our vision for the Atlanta Declaration will recognize accountability applies to many different stakeholders and requires actions across four main areas. First and most important, the Convention is a promise by governments to be accountable to their citizens to take action to prevent and combat corruption. The Atlanta Declaration will also remind States parties that they are accountable to the Convention itself, through full implementation of their obligations as signatories.
The Declaration will also call for accountability for corrupt actors and denial of safe haven to the corrupt and the proceeds of their crimes.
Finally, the Declaration will call for States Parties to become more accountable to each other through capacity building and peer-to-peer learning, including by incorporating the expertise found in civil society.
The adoption of the Atlanta Declaration by the Conference will send a powerful message. It will signal our collective resolve to reject impunity for corruption. It will also reaffirm that the fight against corruption belongs to everyone.
As President Van der Bellen noted in his opening comments, the efforts of our partners in civil society, representatives of which are joining us today, are essential for a successful fight against corruption. One of the strongest, most reliable tools for countering corruption lies in engagement with and through civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector.
We rely on the deep expertise that can be found within civil society organizations to inform our policies, and to inform our citizens. Civil society groups raise awareness of corruption and aid in its prevention; and civil society, along with academia and the private sector, plays a pivotal role in exerting pressure on governments to address corruption and hold bad actors accountable. Twenty years ago, the drafters of the Convention recognized the critical role these stakeholders play by, in Article 13, obligating States to promote their participation in anti-corruption efforts.
Unfortunately, despite these obligations, civil society groups and NGOs are often undermined by governments for the work they do in highlighting and countering corruption, and they can be targeted precisely for their efforts to demand transparency, fairness, gender equality, and accountability.
Despite the associated risks, we have seen countless civil society groups act fearlessly to call out corruption and bolster governments’ commitments to fight corruption. The United States has begun to recognize at least some of those groups through our Secretary of State’s Anti-Corruption Champions Awards, launched two years ago.
The Convention recognizes the important role of civil society in the fight against corruption. But civil society has not always been sufficiently integrated into the work of the Convention’s States parties and their fora, such as the COSP.
This is why the United States will host a signature event the day before the Conference, which we will call the Civil Society Forum. And to help move the needle on greater civil society involvement at the multilateral level, one of the issues we will discuss at the Forum is “Promoting NGO Engagement in Multilateral Bodies.”
Critical also to the fight against corruption is engagement with our youth, the leaders of tomorrow’s world. The day before the Conference will also feature a Young Changemakers Event designed to elevate and celebrate the voices of students and young activists to strengthen the fight against corruption.
And the two days before the conference will also feature an Academic Symposium that will provide a space for dialogue between members of academia, young scholars, and anti-corruption experts.
If you will join us in Atlanta, you can register for any of these pre-Conference events by visiting our website at COSP10.us. In closing, I congratulate everyone in this room, all States parties, the United Nations, and thousands of civil society groups around the world for the past twenty years of efforts to fight corruption through implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption.
And in doing so, I also challenge all of us to redouble our efforts, so that in another twenty years, our successors will stand here as we do, congratulating each other on their efforts, and living in a society more free, and more fair, and more prosperous due to our efforts today and in the coming years.