Mr. President,


As representative of the host country for the Ad Hoc Committee that negotiated the United Nations Convention against Corruption, I have the special honor to commend our hosts, the United States of Mexico and the City of Merida, on this excellent signing conference. The signing of the Convention by such a large number of states on the occasion of the Merida Conference creates necessary momentum for those still undecided or, in most cases, just unable to participate in this signing event. The Conference of Merida also establishes a good precedent: the depositing of the instruments of ratification by the first ratifying state on the day of the opening for signature is, in my recollection, a historic first, and augurs well for early entry into force of the Convention.


It is most appropriate that the signing conference takes place in Latin America, concluding a process that had started with the preparatory meeting hosted by Argentina nearly exactly two years ago. Among the 129 delegations participating in the Ad Hoc Committee, delegations from Latin America played an outstanding role. Contributions from Mexico as well as from Columbia have very much influenced the final text negotiated on the basis of a draft text of the convention, tabled cooperatively by my own delegation and the Netherlands. At this point, I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to my Dutch colleagues for the excellent and successful partnership.


This signing conference also augurs well for the Convention to become a global instrument, providing the legal framework to efficiently combat corruption, considered the single most limiting obstacle to investment in developing economies and, since it reflects a flagrant disregard for the rule of law, human rights and democratic practices, also for the prosperity and well-being of societies. Since corruption disrupts every aspect of societies, hurting the poor disproportionately, the Convention against Corruption is, clearly and undisputedly, a treaty for the people. Hence, for becoming a useful tool, universality of the Convention must not only mean adherence by a large number of states, but, at the same time, support by civil society.


At this point, I would also like to commend the Vienna-based Office on Drugs and Crime for its contributions to the Convention. Facilitating the successful negotiation process for the Convention against Corruption, the ODC fulfilled its mandate, which is nothing less than to fight the "uncivil elements" in our societies. Together with the battle against illicit drugs, organized crime and international terrorism, combating corruption, wherever and whenever, preconditions sound economic performance, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development and, as the final goal, provides for human security.


The Convention we are celebrating at this Conference, offers a strong legal framework to efficiently fighting corruption. Its comprehensive set of standards, measures and rules make it a potentially landmark instrument, complementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which just entered into force. The negotiated text calls for the criminalization of the most

prevalent manifestations of corruption in both public and private sector, including bribery and the embezzlement of public funds as well as the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and obstruction of justice. The Convention also establishes a framework for cooperation among states to prevent, investigate and prosecute offenders as well as to return the proceeds of corruption. International cooperation is the backbone of the Convention, because it will leave offenders with no safe haven to escape to. In a most dramatic breakthrough the Ad Hoc Committee agreed on the returning of assets obtained through corruption to the country from which these assets had been stolen. Asset recovery had been one of the most contentious issues of the negotiation process and generally regarded as the main indicator for the quality of the Convention. With agreeing on asset recovery as a fundamental principle of the Convention, the Ad Hoc Committee has also introduced a convincing preventive measure: It is a strong message to those ready or tempted to betray the public trust, to large scale thieves and potential kleptocrats that stolen assets can no longer be stored abroad safely. Plundering the national wealth is no longer a viable private pension scheme for some shameless individuals in power because now we have a potent legal instrument to return those assets to the country which they belong to.


Throughout the negotiations, Austria has pushed for strong preventive measures as a first, essential step towards combating corruption. Therefore, from our national point of view, the Convention's whole chapter on prevention is particularly important, taking into account both the public and private sectors and proposing concrete policies to help immunizing societies against the virus of corruption. Prevention can only work with the active involvement of civil society. Therefore, the Convention calls for raising public awareness of corruption and on how to prevent it.


Of course, as the common denominator of the often diverse interests of 129 negotiating countries, the Convention against Corruption sometimes employs, necessarily I would say, ambiguous language and some provisions are left vague or undetermined. Whereas Chapter VII on mechanisms for implementation, the negotiations of which I had the honor to chair, does go beyond the provisions of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, it defers the establishment of a concrete supplemental review mechanism as well as an appropriate implementation process to the Conference of States Parties.


Mr. President,


It is appropriate to celebrate the opening for signatures of the Convention against Corruption as a great cooperative achievement reflecting global consensus on the need to fight corruption. It is prudent to say that we have agreed on a legal instrument providing an excellent framework for each country to fight corruption effectively.