Hon. Jill A. Schuker - Why We Need an International Anti-Corruption Court

Not a day passes without a spate of troubling, documented reports about how grand corruption is undermining democratic governance. More attention is being paid to this scourge, but the global reality is that we are still without the means to effectively uproot corruption—especially high-level, grand corruption—or confidently punish it once it is uncovered.

More and better official mechanisms are in place to identify and monitor kleptocracy. Citizens from Romania to Brazil to Nigeria to Malaysia, to name only a few, are demanding change and prosecution of corrupt officials—including impeachment. Monitoring mechanisms are more widespread and dogged.

Despite the progress, the theft of citizens’ ability to have confidence in their leaders to provide “clean” and honest government is all-too-common phenomenon. We often acknowledge the fact of high-level government corruption, yet do little about the systemic undermining that follows in its wake. As a result, citizens are denied a financial and political system that works in their interest.

Some are fighting to rectify this outrageous state of affairs. Latin American countries have been especially active in their pursuit of corrupt officials, and have worked across state lines to do so. But there is a pervasive sense of helplessness even among those most aware of the crisis. Naming and shaming is a powerful tool, but it also has no teeth to enforce. And some of those most active in the fight have had to leave their countries because of threats and imminent danger.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention are bulwarks to fight the illness and in some cases may even prevent it, but they are not the universal cure. Greed and a sense of inertia are powerful enemies. Legislative and internal legal solutions take time and often face formidable obstacles. Complacency is one of them. And those who control the levers of government are able to suppress effective responses to their own monumental misdeeds. The system feeds on itself.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) passed in the United States and the British Bribery Act are among the strongest national barriers to corruption but they were not designed as blueprints to attack the issue at the highest levels of government where the negative consequences are the most egregious. While no country is immune to misdeeds, often those most in need of remedy are those who do the least about it—Haiti under the Duvaliers, or Angola under its present and long-time leadership, for example. The country becomes the “ruling” family’s piggybank.

And this is where the concept of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) inserts itself and both demands serious consideration. The arguments against the feasibility of such a court are well-known—sovereignty issues most specifically—but as we have seen perhaps most recently with the Paris Climate Agreement, international accord can happen and change the paradigm of how countries behave and act and as a result better the lives of their citizens.

An IACC is not an easy “get” but it is worthy of discourse and serious deliberation as to how such an entity could work and provide an effective mechanism for protecting citizen interests and livelihoods against political and governmental leaders who “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk.”

Integrity Initiatives International (III) is committed to exploring how to promulgate an IACC and to see what effective enforcement steps and mechanisms can be put into place along the road to that goal. The engagement of young people committed to the transparent and proud futures for their countries and themselves; the work of legal, political and policy officials and advocates who believe in the importance of transparent government, democratic governance; and honorable leaders all have a role to play.

An IACC may seem like a far reach, but so were some of our finest moments in world history, born out of what seems impossible.

Global leadership, civil society leadership, strategic and tactical planning, and a vision of what an International Anti-Corruption Court could do in practice as well as on paper does not have to be just an idea. Entities such as the National Endowment for Democracy, Global Financial Integrity, Transparency International, the International Bar Association, and other international and regional institutions all view corruption as a major cause of global and national instability. Former Secretary of State John Kerry stated at the global anti-corruption seminar in London last year that“culture can adapt to modernity and to a global standard that requires something more” than the acceptance of an illness that “tears at the entire fabric of a society.”

Integrity Initiatives International –with its international board of legal, policy and legislative leaders—is created to foster the consideration and development of an International Anti-Corruption Court—not because we are naïve or have undue expectations, but because it is needed and there is a new global awakening to the dangers corruption imposes on us all. 

Learn more about Jill Schuker.