Madrid, 1 August 2012 – At the first ever civil society briefing with States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which took place in Vienna this June, access to information and participation remained top on the agenda for both civil society advocates and government officials.
Civil society representatives, one after another emphasised the need to be involved in the process of reviewing what states had done to implement UNCAC anti-corruption obligations. At the same time, a vast majority of state representatives also welcomed civil society participation in the UNCAC process, citing numerous examples of positive cooperation with NGOs. Specific mention was also made of the importance of access to information laws in the fight against corruption, including delegates reporting instances of public officials using the right to information to investigate crimes on corruption in their own countries.
The UNCAC review process is currently entering into the third year of a four year cycle which has focused on asset recovery and the criminalisation of corruption-related activities such as bribery, embezzlement and money laundering, in accordance with commitments made by the 160 States Parties to the UNCAC.
The second four year cycle will have a focus on the prevention of corruption. According to the UNCAC, Member States must comply with specific transparency-related obligations in order to prevent corruption. This includes Article 13 which focuses on access to information at the national level. States will therefore need to review what they have done to: “ensure that the public has effective access to information” and that they are “respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption.”
Preparations for the next cycle are already under way, with an upcoming meeting of the UNCAC Intergovernmental Working Group on Prevention this August in Vienna, at which the issue of access to information is expected to be a central part of discussions. Despite the step forward in holding a briefing for civil society in June, non-governmental representatives still do not have observer status in the overall implementation review process and therefore their involvement in the August meeting will be limited. However, it is hoped that in the future more doors will continue to open and that the coming focus on access to information will provide an opportunity for the strengthening of international recognition of the right of access to information.