Justice Richard Goldstone - Could an International Anti-Corruption Court Help?

As globalization and economic opportunity grow, so too do the means and opportunity for corruption. There is no country on earth that is immune from this disease. North and south, east and west, developed and developing countries - all are infected by the damage inflicted by corruption on millions of victims. Corruption comes at all levels, both within and outside government.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of laws, domestic and international, that are designed to prevent and deter corruption. No less than 181 countries are parties to the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption, and there are few nations that do not have laws that outlaw corruption.

What then explains the growing incidence of corruption throughout the globe? I would suggest that a major reason is the absence or inefficiency of law enforcement. Grand corruption, which is perpetrated by leaders of far too many nations, is hardly ever investigated, and the perpetrators remain above the law. They are rarely investigated by their own domestic courts and there is no international or trans-national court with jurisdiction over them or the crimes they commit.

It cannot be doubted that the crime rate in any country has a direct relationship with the efficiency of the justice and police system. The more efficient the system, the lower the crime rate and, conversely, the less efficient, the higher the crime rate. I would suggest that the same correlation applies in the global community. If there were an efficient International Anti-Corruption Court, at least some would-be perpetrators of grand corruption would be deterred from stealing many millions of dollars from their own citizens.

The major victims of corruption are the poorest members of their societies. I would suggest that a meaningful way to recognize their victimhood and to protect them from the scourge of corruption is to increase the efficiency of international justice relating to the crime of grand corruption.

It was for similar reasons that 124 nations ratified the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has jurisdiction only over the most serious war crimes committed within the territory or by nationals of states party to the statute. Its problems are manifest, well publicized, and much debated. A number of leaders are nervous at the prospect of being brought before the ICC and have opposed ratification of the Rome Statute. Some who have joined the ICC attempt to leave it when war crimes are committed in their own countries. This is certainly the position of Burundi and, until he was recently replaced as head of state of The Gambia, the motivation of former President Yahya Jammeh in giving notice to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

An International Anti-Corruption Court with jurisdiction over the most serious instances of grand corruption would surely act as a deterrent in some cases and would certainly increase the attention of the public to the endemic incidence of corruption in so many countries around the world. It deserves the support of all people who have regard for the millions of victims of corruption.

Richard J. Goldstone was a judge in South Africa for 23 years, the last nine as a Justice of the Constitutional Court. Since retiring from the bench he has taught as a visiting professor in a number of United States Law Schools. From August 1994 to September 1996 he was the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He is an honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple, London and an honorary fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. He is an honorary member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is an honorary life member of the International Bar Association and Honorary President of its Human Rights Institute.