10 May 2004


Press Release

Fact Sheet                                                 

United Nations Convention against Corruption

(Reissued as received.)

VIENNA, 10 May (UN Information Service) -- More than 120 governments met in the southern Mexican city of Mérida in December last year for a signing conference for the first legally binding international agreement to fight corruption:  the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  Under the terms of the United Nations General Assembly-approved Convention against Corruption, ratifying countries will enter into a legal obligation to:

-- Criminalize an array of corrupt practices;

-- Develop national institutions to prevent corrupt practices and to prosecute offenders;

-- Cooperate with other governments to recover stolen assets; and

-- Help each other, including with technical and financial assistance, to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence and reinforce integrity.

After signing the Convention, governments have embarked on the process of bringing their practices into accord with the terms of the Convention and obtaining national ratification.  A total of thirty ratifications are needed for the Convention to enter into force.  The first two ratifications have already been deposited by Kenya and Sri Lanka, while several more countries are well advanced in the ratification process.

The Convention against Corruption provides the opportunity for a global response to a global problem.  The level of support it has received, measured by the number of countries that have already signed (over 100), indicates both an acute awareness of the severity of the problem, as well as a remarkable political commitment to tackle it.

Corruption strikes at the core of the priority concerns of the United Nations.  The links between corruption and organized crime, terrorism, conflict, human rights abuses, environmental degradation and poverty are now universally recognized.  Preventing and combating corruption must be seen as part of an overall effort to create the foundation for democracy, development, justice and effective governance.

Quantifying the magnitude of the corruption both at the national and international level is a challenge.  Some studies have suggested that the cost of corruption exceeds by far the damage caused by any other single crime.  More than $1,000 billion is paid in bribes each year, according to ongoing research at the World Bank Institute.  This figure is an estimate of actual bribes paid worldwide in both rich and developing countries.  The World Bank estimates that one Asian country has lost $48 billion over the past 20 years to corruption, surpassing its entire foreign debt of $40.6 billion.

The Asian Development Bank has conducted studies that have shown how corruption can cost a country up to 17 per cent of its gross domestic product, “robbing the population of resources that can be used to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development”.

As the custodian of the Convention, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is building on the framework of the Convention, levering change in areas where it has acquired expertise and experience and in societies where the problem is most severe.  And, critically, it is working with other international and regional bodies to ensure a unified response that maximizes the impact of international assistance.

The primary focus of the Office is to ensure that the Convention enters into force.  However, in parallel and with the aim of reinforcing this work, it is expanding its programme of technical assistance -- in line with the provisions of the Convention -- in specific focus areas and to those countries whose needs are the greatest.

A critical focus of the Convention is prevention – the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is aiming its assistance at States that have notably high levels of corruption, or that have shown themselves to be particularly vulnerable to corrupt practices, yet where the authorities demonstrate a clear commitment to addressing the problem in a serious and comprehensive manner.

Until such time as the Convention will enter into force, the Office is providing technical assistance to Member States, through legal advisory services for the ratification of the Convention, and through technical cooperation projects focusing on preventive measures.

The latter will essentially cover four areas, which, if tackled correctly, will provide critical building blocks towards achieving corruption-free societies.  These include:  national anti-corruption policies and mechanisms; strengthening judicial integrity and capacity; promoting integrity in the public and private sectors; and, denying the proceeds of corruption and facilitating the recovery of illicit assets.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption offers a unique opportunity to respond effectively to corruption -- and by doing so, enhance the prospects for personal and societal development in many countries where this is not possible in the current context.

For further information, contact United Nations Information Service Vienna (UNIS), tel.: (+43-1) 26060 4666, fax: (+43-1) 26060 5899, e-mail:

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For information media. Not an official record.