Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the General Assembly high-level debate marking the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, in New York today:
I am very pleased to be with all you to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
As Member States and partners, our common objectives include preventing violent conflict, building peace and security, protecting human rights and charting a path to sustainable development. If we are to make progress towards these priorities, we need a solid foundation of trust and accountability.
As the President of the General Assembly just said, Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for reducing corruption and bribery, strengthening the recovery and return of stolen assets and developing effective, inclusive and transparent institutions. This is a global appeal for fairness, a collective demand for justice.
This event today is a timely opportunity to reflect on how the international community can make good on these commitments.
Corruption affects developed and developing countries alike, and complicity knows no borders. Those who can least afford corruption suffer the most. It cripples economic development, stifles entrepreneurship and deters investment.
Society cannot function equitably and efficiently when public officials — from doctors to police, judges and politicians — enrich themselves rather than perform their duties with integrity. Corruption robs funds from schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other vital services.
Human trafficking and migrant smuggling, illicit financial flows and illegal trade in natural resources, weapons, drugs and cultural heritage are all made possible because of corruption. It fuels conflict, and when a hard-won peace is achieved, corruption undermines recovery.
Corruption and impunity are corrosive, breeding frustration and fostering further corruption when people see no other way of achieving their goals. A sense of desperation before the real and perceived lack of opportunities also fuels the large movements of people seeking better prospects. And the lack of opportunities for young women and men, often exacerbated in corrupt societies, can feed into the cynical narratives of terrorists and violent extremists.
The answer is to root out and eradicate corruption at all levels and restore trust where it has been lost.
The role of the United Nations is crucial. There are several ways the Organization can support Member States to combat corruption, from sharing good practices to supporting the capacity of national anti-corruption institutions. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala is a case in point.
The United Nations Convention against Corruption represents the fundamental recognition that corruption is neither an acceptable cost of doing business nor a necessary evil. It is a serious crime, and simply unacceptable.
Since its adoption, the Convention has achieved near-global acceptance with 184 parties. For 15 years, it has served as an international framework for cooperation to strengthen prevention and mitigate corruption risks.
It helps disrupt money‑laundering and stop the illicit outflow of funds. It contributes to the return of stolen proceeds from foreign banks, and it enrols in civil society and the private sector as essential partners.
Full implementation is needed to put an end to the threat that corruption poses to development. To achieve this, Member States have come together to review each other’s efforts.
Such responses are critical to provide fair opportunities and facilitate investment, tackle transnational organized crime, prevent the unfair influence of powerful interests on governance and safeguard civil and human rights.
Yet, we will not achieve a lasting impact without the full engagement and support of the business and financial communities. And we need civil society, a free press and young people to continue doing their valuable work in bringing to light corrupt practices and holding individuals, businesses and Governments to account.
On this fiftieth anniversary, I urge you to use the Convention as a platform to mobilize political and popular support for the fight against corruption. It is the world’s most agile instrument in the hands of the international community to achieve our common goals of good governance, stability and prosperity.
African countries have taken a leading role in moving this agenda forward in the last African Union summit and with measures as for example through anti‑money‑laundering efforts in Nigeria and Tunisia, which have seen funds returned.
If Governments are serious about doing the best for their citizens, then pledges to promote integrity and clamp down on corruption must be more than campaign promises and words on paper.
Millions will go to the polls this year with corruption high on their agenda. I make an urgent call to our global leadership to take a moral stand and install a culture of integrity from the top down. It all begins with setting an example. By tackling corruption, Governments can show they mean business.
We must all do more. The United Nations will continue to support Member States every step of the way, from helping to engage and empower citizens in this fight, to helping build and enhance institutions that can deliver on their promise.