It appears to have turned into anti-corruption week on the blog (see Tuesday’s post on Heather Marquette’s work). Transparency International’s annual ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ dropped the same day and makes an important link between corruption and human rights: ‘The 2021 CPI results show that countries with well-protected civil and political liberties generally control corruption better.’
Here’s the relevant section, which argues that the causation runs both ways – corrupt regimes need to repress protests against their corruption, and repressive regimes have fewer checks and balances to stop people stealing.
The link between Corruption and Human Rights
Our analysis of this year’s CPI results shows that upholding human rights is crucial in the fight against corruption, with countries who violate civil liberties generally scoring lower on the CPI.
Corruption undermines the ability of governments to guarantee the human rights of their citizens. This affects the delivery of public services, the dispensation of justice and the provision of safety for all. In particular, grand corruption committed by high-level officials usually combines the large-scale, transnational theft of public funds with gross human rights violations.
Our analysis shows that such corruption schemes – often facilitated by advanced economies who score well on the CPI – exacerbate repression by allowing autocrats to:
Enjoy looted funds. Employing complicit bankers, lawyers and real-estate brokers in major financial centres, the corrupt can store their illicit gains, reward cronies and further concentrate their power.
Launder their reputation abroad. By bribing foreign politicians and employing western public relations firms and lobbyists, authoritarian and kleptocratic regimes soften international pressure on their human rights record.
Evade accountability. Through the abuse of secret companies and anonymous investments, the corrupt can hide their wrongdoing from law enforcement or judicial bodies and escape consequences.
Human rights are not simply a nice-to-have in the fight against corruption. Authoritarianism makes anti-corruption efforts dependent on the whims of an elite. Ensuring that civil society and the media can speak freely and hold power to account is the only sustainable route to a corruption-free society.
Fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and access to justice guarantee public participation and keep corruption in check. The current wave of authoritarianism is not driven by coups and violence, but by gradual efforts to undermine democracy. This usually begins with attacks on civil and political rights, efforts to undermine the autonomy of oversight and election bodies, and control of the media.
Such attacks allow corrupt regimes to evade accountability and criticism, allowing corruption to flourish.
Corruption and Breaches of Civil Liberties
Armenia is a success story of the CPI in the last five years, improving 14 points since 2017 to a score of 49. Mass protests in 2018 forced out an entrenched political elite in favour of a reform-minded government. Armenia has since expanded civil liberties, paving the way for more sustainable civic engagement and accountability. Despite progress, the reform agenda has stalled in the past year and the government must recommit.
Uzbekistan is one of the most consistent improvers in the CPI, from a score of just 17 in 2012 to 28 this year. Reforms adopted since 2016 contributed to modest increases in civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression. However, Uzbekistan remains an autocracy and much more is needed to achieve lasting wins against corruption.
A modernised economy, efficient bureaucracy and strong rule of law all contribute to Singapore’s success. However, it continues to fall far behind on human rights such as freedom of expression and association, which means that any anti-corruption success is tied to the political will of the ruling elite and can be easily reversed.
An unsafe climate for speaking out
Corruption and impunity make it unsafe for people to speak up and demand justice. Ninety-eight per cent of the 331 murders of human rights defenders in 2020 occurred in countries with high levels of public sector corruption, as shown by a CPI score of below 45. At least 20 of these cases were human rights defenders specifically focusing on anti-corruption issues.
Corruption and Murders of Human Rights Defenders
Nicaragua has dropped 9 points in the index since 2012, to a low of just 20. The long-serving president, Daniel Ortega, has responded to corruption allegations with a crackdown on media, civic space and oversight institutions. Nicaragua’s scores on on V-Dem’s “Freedom of Expression”, “Freedom of Association” and “Access to Justice” indicators have now dropped to record lows.
With a score of 33, the Philippines is a significant decliner, having lost 5 points since 2014. Since the election of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has also seen a sharp decline in freedom of association and freedom of expression, making it harder to speak up about corruption. In 2020, it was the country with the second highest number of murdered human rights defenders, with a total of 25 deaths.
Azerbaijan has remained in the bottom third of the CPI since 2012, its score oscillating between 25 and 30. In 2017, the Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation revealed how a vast slush fund financed the regime’s reputation laundering by making payments – mostly through Danske Bank – to politicians across Europe, while jailing outspoken opposition and media figures at home.
Overall, this feels like a bit of a departure for TI, very clearly linking up its anti-corruption message with a more ‘political’ human rights message (apologies if they’ve been doing it for years, and I just missed it).
Here’s the 90 second video intro to the overall index