From: Alice Taylor
Council of Europe Member States Should Step up Fight against Corruption

Corruption, bribery, theft, and tax evasion cost developing countries at least $1.6 trillion every year. This amount would be enough to lift 1.4 billion people above the poverty line for at least six years.

This is according to a press release from Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic. She adds that the judiciary and law enforcement are among the institutions most affected by corruption.

“Corruption is rightly called one of the most insidious social phenomena. It erodes trust in public institutions, hinders economic development and has a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of human rights, particularly  by people that belong to marginalised or disadvantaged groups such as minorities, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants and prisoners. It also disproportionately affects women, children and people living in poverty, in particular by hampering their access to basic social rights such as healthcare, housing and education,” the Commissioner writes.

Touching on judicial reform, she states how it’s been rushed in some states, seriously undermining its impact.

“In several Council of Europe member states, the governments have rushed judicial reforms reinforcing the executive’s strong influence on the judiciary through parliament, seriously undermining the independence of the judiciary, weakening judicial oversight of the executive, and in turn its capacity to fight corruption,” she wrote.

The proper independence of judges including freedom from political interests is important in ensuring that judgements serve the interests of the people, not politics.

It was also noted that governments need to step up protections for freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. Politicians should refrain from undue criticism and pressure on journalists that could result in “a chilling effect and lead to self-censorship. Governments should also counter SLAPPs by allowing early dismissal of such suits and introducing measures to punish abuse including reversing the cost of proceeds and giving support to those those who are sued.

Institutions must also make access to official documents a reality, including the efficient and effective implementation of freedom of information legislation.

Police, she said, must be subject to regular training on integrity and ethics and an effective and well-funded system of oversight must be in place.

In terms of public officials, they must act with integrity and avoid engagements which entail a conflict of interest and increased risk of corruption.

Despite the strong anti-corruption standards and the CoE’s effective monitoring of member states’ compliance with these standards, “corruption continues to pose a serious threat to the rule of law and human rights in the Council of Europe region”, according to Mijatovic.

The statement notes that in order to tackle corruption effectively, Council of Europe member states should comply fully with the Council of Europe and international standards concerning corruption prevention and the promotion of integrity and step up the implementation of GRECO’s recommendations.