31 October 2003


Press Briefing


With the General Assembly set to adopt the Convention against Corruption this afternoon, the United Nations was witnessing a momentous day in its history, the Acting Chairman of the ad hoc committee tasked with negotiating the Convention told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.

Muhyieddeen Touq, who is also Jordan’s Ambassador to Austria, said the Convention was the first internationally negotiated United Nations treaty to deal with the issue of corruption.  As such, he hoped it would set the stage for national and international efforts to fight that scourge.  The Convention, a broad, comprehensive, pragmatic and well-balanced text, required 30 ratifications to enter into force. 

Judging from the level of support already seen for the Convention, he believed it could be easily ratifiable.  A large number of countries –- some 125 –- had participated in the negotiation process, including developing and least developed countries.  He hoped the large number of participating countries was indicative of the importance the world attached to the Convention.  He believed the Convention would start the fight against corruption, make the world more livable and contribute to global economic development and good governance.

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, agreed that the Convention was well balanced, containing elements not only of law enforcement and criminal justice, but also of prevention and technical assistance.  “The Convention had teeth”, he said, in that it contained many binding aspects and strong language. 

While the Convention’s focus was primarily on corruption in the public sector, it also made inroads in fighting corruption in the private sector, he added.  It covered a broad range of issues such as bribery and diversion of funds and property.  In the negotiation process, countries had attributed great importance to the repatriation of stolen or illegally appropriated assets.  “This is new and a major breakthrough in the Convention”, he added. 

Indeed, some countries had wanted to treat asset recovery as an inalienable right, he said.  That provision of the Convention would also serve as a deterrent.  The fact that money could no longer hide could discourage potential perpetrators.  The Convention also included many new elements, such as funding of political parties and electoral processes and the use of electronic means in asset recovery and investigations. 

Asked if the Convention would be applied retroactively, Mr. Costa said that, within the current legal system, retroactivity could not be contemplated.  Given the worldwide interest in the Convention, the number of ratifications for the Convention’s entry into force had been lowered.  And given the Convention’s speedy negotiation process, which had lasted some 19 months, he believed that the Convention would quickly enter into force.  While it might not be retroactive, the Convention would be immediately binding.

Would the Convention create any kind of international enforcement mechanism? a correspondent asked.  Mr. Costa noted that an entire chapter of the Convention dealt with the issue of international cooperation.  As the proceeds of corruption tended to migrate from country to country, international cooperation was important in facilitating the identification of perpetrators and repatriation of funds. 

In response to a question on the definition of corruption, Mr. Touq said the Convention did not contain a specific definition.  Specific articles, however, spoke to specific kinds of corruption.  The Convention contained very strong articles that dealt with practically all aspects of corruption.  Consensus on the definition of corruption had not been reached during the negotiating process.  The Convention had been successful, however, in reaching consensus on how each facet of corruption should be dealt with. 

It would be up to States parties to show will in implementing the Convention, he added.  Today was only the beginning.  Countries had to work together, not only in the area of international cooperation but also in their domestic legislation.  Much needed to be done, and he trusted that countries would take up their responsibilities. 

“Without accountability we really don’t have a Convention”, he added.  He hoped the Conference of States Parties would have some kind of mechanism whereby individual countries would be accountable to each other and to the United Nations in the implementation of the Convention. 

Asked if the Convention would simply provide moral force in the fight against corruption, Mr. Costa said he would not put aside the importance of moral force.  A convention per se was not enough.  With such broad support for the Convention’s implementation, he believed many would make use of the Convention and that it would become both a moral force and platform of action.  The instruments were now in place. 

Asked what role the United Nations would play, Mr. Costa said the Organization would assist countries in implementing the Convention, including by helping them to ratify the treaty and by establishing domestic legislation.  The United Nations had also provided the environment in which the Convention had been negotiated. 

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.