22 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 9th Meeting (AM)

Sixth Committee Speakers Highlight How Corruption, Illicit Financial Flows, Decolonization Issues Undermine Trust of Rule of Law, as Debate Concludes

Concerns about corruption, decolonization and safe havens for illicit financial flows were at the forefront today as delegates, concluding the debate on strengthening the rule of law, reported on efforts to promote the principle both nationally and internationally, while outlining how the absence of the principle diverted resources and undermined trust.  (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3621.)

The representative of the Dominican Republic stressed that the rule of law must become the rule, rather than the exception.  Reminding the Committee that the pandemic has had devastating consequences in countries with high levels of corruption, he underscored the importance of education and democratic control.  Corruption in its many forms, ranging from bribery to sexual harassment to impunity, was the main enemy of democracy, he said.

Afghanistan’s delegate highlighted how her country’s battle against corruption was taking place alongside the challenges of terrorism and now, the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Yet, despite that, new laws on the criminalization of corruption, a new penal code and a whistle-blower protection law, among others, have been established, she said, adding that the rule of law was the overarching objective of 19 years of efforts towards a self‑reliant Afghanistan.

The representative of Eritrea, also describing his Government’s efforts ensure high levels of accountability, pointed to its continuous legal and administrative efforts to tackle favoritism, bribery, and negligence of public responsibility.  Nevertheless, administrative malpractices did surface, he acknowledged, calling on the Organization to support States.  He also reminded the Committee that corruption saps the global economy of trillions of dollars.

Echoing those words, Pakistan’s delegate pointed out the staggering volume of wealth stolen from developing countries due to bribery, tax evasion and money laundering.  “There should be no safe havens for the proceeds of corruption,” he emphasized, calling on countries to impose criminal and financial penalties on financial institutions which enable corruption.  He also urged delegations to consider the possibility of an additional protocol on asset returns.  Such mutual legal assistance was essential to give teeth to global efforts to combat corruption.

When it comes to rule of law, the representative of Mauritius said, there cannot be an ‘a la carte menu’ option.  The United Kingdom, claiming to be a champion of the principle, was maintaining an unlawful colonial administration in Mauritius — the last British colony in Africa.  Highlighting the International Court of Justice advisory opinion that the Chagos Archipelago is part of the territory of Mauritius, he drew a contrast between the United Kingdom’s persistent defiance of the Court and its longstanding commitment to the rules‑based international system.

However, the representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his Government has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago but will stand by its commitment to cede sovereignty over the territory when it no longer requires it for national security purposes.

The Sixth Committee also commenced consideration of the report on the Committee on Relations with the Host Country (document A/75/26).  Andreas Mavroyiannis (Cyprus), Chair of the Host Committee stressed that the forum — the only such mechanism within the United Nations system mandated to consider matters in relation to the host country — remains an open, transparent and flexible body.  During the reporting period issues concerning entry visas, travel restrictions and banking operations of Permanent Missions were of particular concern regarding the implementation of the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States.

He also noted that the report and its conclusions tried to fully reflect discussions that have taken place over the past year, observing that certain issues raised in the report remain unsolved.  To address unresolved issues, the report includes new language on a number of matters, including issuance of entry visas to representatives of Member States, the denial of a visa to a Foreign Minister and on travel regulations issued by the host country with regard to personnel of certain missions.  He assured the Sixth Committee that the relevant parties remain actively engaged in discussions, a clear indication that the body is the best avenue for finding acceptable solutions to the above issues.

Also speaking in the exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Azerbaijan and Mauritius.

The Sixth Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. on Friday, 23 October, to continue its consideration of the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country and take up the report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization.

Rule of Law

The representative of Maldives, recalling the serious challenges to rule of law in his country before President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assumed office, said his Government was motivated to strengthen independent institutions, reform the judiciary and eliminate corruption.  It also was continuing to investigate human rights abuses, murders and enforced disappearances.  Noting that good governance depends not only on securing redress for such crimes but on preventing them from ever occurring, he highlighted recently ratified legislation that provided guidelines for the independence of members of independent institutions such as the Anti‑Corruption Commission.  Further, Maldives amended the Judicial Service Commission act in 2019 to ensure that judicial independence be upheld.  The strategic action plan (2019‑2023) adopted in September prioritizes the elimination of corruption and a guarantee of fundamental rights and freedoms for all, he reported.

The representative of Belarus stated that corruption was a barrier to the healthy development of societies, undermining trust in authority, hindering competition and reducing tax revenue by fostering a shadow economy.  He detailed his Government’s measures to combat the phenomenon, noting that these efforts also involved the public and the media.  The need for international and regional cooperation on this matter in a time of globalization was crucial.  International and national measures to combat corruption must be proactive and use new technology to improve systems that collect and exchange information.  The COVID‑19 pandemic has created serious challenges to the legal systems of States and to international law, he pointed out, calling for a systemic analysis aimed at updating relevant treaties and drafting new ones to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic.  These measures must seek a balance between the needs of society and the individual, he added.

The representative of Thailand, associating herself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said corruption in her country was a serious impediment to the rule of law and sustainable development.  The Government recently strengthened anti‑corruption policies and legislation, working to advance laws and regulations in compliance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption and international standards.  To that end, a recent Government amendment aims to comply with additional provisions of the Convention, including ability to directly recover assets located in a foreign jurisdiction, strengthening measures to prevent obstruction of justice, and making bribery of foreign public officials a criminal offence.  With a view to involving citizens and youth in the fight, anti‑corruption education programmes have also been launched in all schools and universities to build a culture of zero‑tolerance against the scourge, she said.

The representative of Ukraine, associating himself with the European Union, echoed remarks that global coronavirus mitigation efforts might infringe on the rule of law.  His Government was taking measures against the Russian Federation in a number of international judicial institutions — including investigations of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, he said, calling for Secretary‑General reports to include additional details on those procedures.  On a national platform, overcoming corruption was a domestic priority and an agency on the matter was recently reinstated.  Further, Kyiv was now implementing its latest anti‑corruption strategy which is grounded on intolerance of corruption nationwide.  “Our task is to reduce corruption and increase confidence in Government,” he said, adding that such measures will promote social and economic development efforts.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that the Charter of the United Nations laid the foundations for a new structure of international law, said “today we are seeing new legal concepts being promoted.”  States are created to defend the rights and interests of their citizens and their destruction leaves people in the grip of unchecked violence.  Underscoring that the host country cannot project its own bilateral relations with a given State onto the United Nations, he expressed his regret about the unacceptable situation of discrimination towards a whole series of countries on the part of the host country.  Turning to rule of law, he called the report an incomplete and absurd compilation of what the Organization was doing in various fields.  The report was replete with vague concepts such as climate justice.  It focused on treaty practice of States, but it was not quite clear why particular conventions were chosen.  Noting that one delegation was using the report as propaganda, he said another delegation was using the topic of the rule of law to disseminate politicized ideas about his country that have no relevance to the current discussion.

The representative of Eritrea, associating himself with the African Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, said that corruption saps the global economy of trillions of dollars, threatening the stability and security of societies and undermining economic and social progress.  Though his Government was deploying development resources and practices with high levels of accountability, administrative malpractices did surface in daily life.  Continuous legal and administrative efforts have been made to deny space to instances of favoritism, bribery, negligence in public responsibility and lack of accountability.  Eritrea has also established a special court mandated to investigate corruption, abuse of power and misuse of public resources.  The Organization should continue the support it provides to States in the development of anti‑corruption strategies and in the investigation of complex corruption cases, he added.

The representative of Armenia said his country’s Government has been implementing a new generation of reforms aimed at an enhanced comprehensive reform of the judiciary and inclusive models of development, including the establishment of the Corruption Prevention Commission.  Systemic corruption can lead to conflict and violence, especially when exacerbated by crisis situations such as the COVID‑19 pandemic, he said.  He also noted that it has been almost four weeks now since the armed forces of Azerbaijan, with military support from Turkey and the involvement of mercenaries and terrorist fighters, have been conducting large‑scale hostilities in the region, amid the pandemic and with total disrespect for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire.  The joint aggression is accompanied by the gravest violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, destruction of cultural and religious buildings, as well as the shelling of schools, kindergartens and hospitals.  As well, attacks on journalists, the use of mercenaries, mutilations, public executions, inhuman treatment of prisoners of war, the use of banned cluster munitions, breaches of the ceasefire arrangements and despicable indecencies amounting to war crimes have been documented and presented to the international community, he added.

The representative of Myanmar, associating himself with ASEAN and Non‑Aligned Movement, said a rules‑based international order must be the foundation upon which a stable future is built.  In that regard, his Government was consolidating democratic institutions to combat corruption.  Myanmar has improved its international transparency rankings by implementing an anti‑corruption law and handing its anti‑corruption commission a wider mandate.  He also noted his strong rejection of the creation of the Human Rights Council Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar which, he stressed, was a clear violation of national sovereignty.

The representative of Pakistan underscored that corruption diverted resources from where they were needed most, thereby undermining trust in institutions and hampering the ability of developing countries to mobilize domestic finance.  The volume of wealth stolen due to corrupt practices such as bribery, tax evasion and money laundering were staggering, he noted, pointing out that a significant portion of these funds gets siphoned off to global safe havens as illicit financial flows.  Calling for a comprehensive multidisciplinary and integrated global approach to fight corruption, he added that stolen assets, including the proceeds of corruption, bribery and other illicit gains must be fully returned to developing countries.  Also highlighting various gaps prevailing in existing mechanisms, he called on the international community to consider the possibility of an additional protocol on asset returns.  Mutual legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of offences was essential to give teeth to global efforts to combat corruption, he said, adding that “there should be no safe havens for the proceeds of corruption.”  Countries must impose criminal and financial penalties on financial institutions which enable corruption and bribery, he emphasized.

The representative of Azerbaijan underscored that the established principle on the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory is one of the cornerstones of the international legal order and must be enforced unconditionally and without exception.  In its relevant resolutions, the Security Council acknowledged that acts of military force were being committed against Azerbaijan, he recalled, emphasizing that those acts are incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations and constitute a violation of his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Despite evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law, Armenia has continued to enjoy impunity for committed crimes, he said, adding that, in order to ensure the safety of the civilian population, Azerbaijan’s armed forces have engaged in the exercise of the right of self-defence, in full compliance with international humanitarian law.  Yet, despite the recently agreed humanitarian ceasefire, direct and indiscriminate attacks by Armenia’s armed forces against cities, towns and villages in Azerbaijan have continued, killing women, children and the elderly, he said, vowing that his country will spare no effort towards ending the unlawful occupation of the Nagorno‑Karabakh region and its other seized territories, while pursuing a political settlement of the conflict over the disputed region on the basis of international law with a view to ensuring peace and justice.

The representative of Algeria, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and African Group, said that adherence to the rule of law was essential to upholding the ideals and principles contained within the Charter, including sovereign equality, non‑interference in the affairs of other States and the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Welcoming the Committee’s focus on the subtopic of combatting corruption, she said that her country has enacted national legislation targeting money‑laundering and terrorist financing and is a party to a number of relevant international agreements.  In addition, a national agency dedicated to preventing and combatting corruption publishes regular reports that propose legislative and administrative measures to address identified shortcomings in this area.

The representative of Mauritius, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and African Group, underscored that the International Court of Justice has been promoting, defining and reinforcing the rule of law through its judgments and Advisory Opinions.  However, the United Kingdom, as the colonial Power, continues to undermine the Court.  The Court had confirmed that the decolonization of Mauritius had not been lawfully completed.  An authoritative legal ruling stated that the Chagos Archipelago is part of the territory of Mauritius.  “The United Kingdom’s persistent defiance of the Court and its refusal to implement relevant resolutions stand in stark contrast to its long‑standing commitment to the rules‑based international system,” he said, adding that it was difficult to see how the United Kingdom purports to be a champion of human rights and rule of law, while in the same breath maintaining an unlawful colonial administration in Mauritius — the last British colony in Africa — and preventing the return of the people it forcibly removed five decades ago.  There cannot be an ‘a la carte menu’ option to choose when and where international law can be applied or enforced, he said.

The representative of Kuwait, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned movement, said rule of law was crucial to achieve equality between all, without discrimination, particularly in areas of conflict.  Reaffirming his country’s respect for the principle, he said that constitutions and national laws are the mirrors that reflect the extent to which States respect the rights and freedoms contained in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.  Kuwait enjoys a constitutional and democratic order that embodies the rule of law in its separation of the three powers.  His country is also committed to international principles and conventions for maintaining peace and security.  Violations of international law must be addressed, he stressed, drawing attention to the continued building of settlements by Israel as a flagrant violation of all international resolutions on this aim.

The representative of the Dominican Republic said that more needs to be done to make the rule of law the rule, rather than the exception, as demonstrated by the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  In those countries known for high levels of social inequality and corruption, those effects have proved even more devastating.  Strengthening the rule of law is not only important to mitigate the current crisis but is also the right way to achieve sustainable development — a necessary and indispensable bulwark against corruption.  Corruption is the main enemy of democracy and its institutions, whether it manifests itself in the form of bribery, impunity, sexual harassment or money laundering.  It must be countered with education and democratic control over institutions, he emphasized.

The representative of Turkey, associating herself with the European Union, said corruption harms equality and poses a serious threat to human rights, rule of law and global development.  However, less than one year from the General Assembly’s special session on corruption, a number of new issues have emerged in relation to COVID‑19 response efforts that stress the need to place the fight against corruption as a policy priority.  “Transparency and accountability are key to combating graft,” she said, adding that Turkey is party to various international conventions on the matter.  She underscored the link between corruption and transnational crime and called for further cooperation on issues of extradition, emphasizing the need to combat corruption in order to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Responding to comments made by Armenia, she said that delegation was desperate to divert attention away from its aggressive policies.  “Turkey strongly condemns all of Armenia’s attacks against Azerbaijan,” she stated, noting that Armenia occupies 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

The representative of Afghanistan said that the rule of law has been the overarching objective of the past 19 years of efforts towards achieving a self‑reliant Afghanistan.  Despite the challenges of terrorism, which are now coupled with the COVID‑19 pandemic, her Government has made notable progress.  Outlining various legal and institutional reforms, she drew attention to new laws on the criminalization of corruption, a new penal code, a fresh start for asset disclosure and verification regimes, and a whistleblower protection law.  Further, Afghanistan has made institutional reforms in the Attorney General's office, the Supreme Court as well as the security sector.  The special anti‑corruption secretariat oversees the implementation of the national anti‑corruption strategy and ensures the coordination of efforts.  Next month at the Geneva conference on Afghanistan, her Government and international partners will renew the shared commitment to work together for the development and stability of the country, she reminded delegates.

An observer for the Holy See said that for treaties to achieve their purpose as a source of international law and a means of developing peaceful cooperation among nations they must be interpreted and observed faithfully.  It is a fundamental principle that no State can be held to a treaty it did not ratify, and any effort to do so would both undermine the sovereignty of each State as a subject of international law and the process leading to ratification.  He encouraged Member States to maintain legal clarity in draft resolutions when referencing international treaties, as imprecise language that suggests universal applicability of treaty provisions blurs the line between what is binding on States and what is not.  He added that such language suggests that concerted action to bring States to ratify treaties of great importance was not needed.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his Government has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.  However, the United Kingdom stands by its commitment to cede sovereignty over the territory when it no longer requires it for national security purposes.

The representative of Azerbaijan said Armenia’s statements were utter falsehoods and that Armenian authorities must look at their own shortcomings rather than blame other countries.  Crackdowns on the opposition and politically‑motivated killings are bitter realities in Armenia, a country that also continues to deny its responsibility for its heinous crimes against Azerbaijan.  “Azerbaijan will not yield an inch of its territory to anyone,” he stated, noting that Armenia recently violated a ceasefire agreement.  He assured the Sixth Committee that Azerbaijani forces do not target civilian infrastructure, adding he rejected allegations of involvement in terrorist‑related activities.

The representative of Mauritius said that his Government has no doubt that the United Kingdom is violating international law as well as the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  While the advisory opinion is not binding, it constitutes an authoritative declaration of international law that all States are obligated to comply with.  Therefore, the United Kingdom is under an obligation to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible, he stated.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Bangladesh, Peru, Philippines, Malaysia, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, Cameroon, Morocco and Costa Rica, as well as an observer from the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

For information media. Not an official record.