Combating Corruption Through International Obligations

Combating Corruption Through International Obligations

Corruption has no single definition, it varies from region to region. In fact, understanding the problem of corruption remains a problem in itself. This is because it is difficult to generalise about the form that corruption assumes in different countries as it refers to many different human activities and behaviour in differing circumstances. As the causes and effects of corruption are different depending on the context of the country, it is perhaps not surprising that it is difficult to formulate a single comprehensive definition that covers all the manifestations of corruption. Transparency International defines corruption as ‘misuse of entrusted power for private gain’ while the World Bank considers it ‘an abuse of public authority for the purpose of acquiring personal gain’.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) does not provide a definition of corruption. However, an understanding of what corruption entails may be gleaned from article 15(b) which prohibits:

“The solicitation or acceptance by a public official, directly or indirectly, of an undue advantage, for the official himself or herself or another person or entity, in order that the official acts or refrains from acting in the exercise of his or her official duties.”

Articles 7 to 12 of the UNCAC deal with specific aspects of corruption in the public and private sectors and Articles 15 to 24 deal with bribery, embezzlement, trading in influence, illicit enrichment, laundering of proceeds of crime and concealment of property.

There have been different classifications of corruption depending on the perspectives from which it is observed. However, a most comprehensive attempt at categorization of corruption found in The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as part of its Anti-Corruption Toolkit highlighted the following forms of corruption i.e., Grand and Petty Corruption, Active and Passive Corruption, Embezzlement, Theft and Fraud, Extortion, Abuse of Discretion, Favouritism, Nepotism and Clientelism, Incidental Corruption, Institutional Corruption

Global initiatives to fight corruption include the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the United Nations Convention against Trans-national Organised Crime. These international instruments seek to set standards in the prevention and criminalization of corruption, as well as facilitate international cooperation in effecting prosecutions and asset recovery. Preventive measures include policies, such as the establishment of anticorruption bodies, enhanced transparency in political party financing, codes of conduct and asset disclosure schemes for public officials, and transparency and accountability in public finance. Specific requirements are established for the prevention of corruption in critical sectors such as the judiciary and public procurement. The Conventions also call on States to actively promote the involvement of civil society in raising public awareness on corruption. States parties are required to establish a wide range of acts of corruption as criminal and other offences if such acts are not already considered crimes under domestic law. In addition to basic forms of corruption such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, other acts such as trading in influence and the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption, as well as those committed in support of corruption, including money laundering and obstructing justice are criminalized.

Due to its trans-national nature, emphasis is made on international cooperation in the prevention, investigation and the prosecution of offenders. States are obliged to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court in order to extradite offenders. They are also required to undertake measures to support the tracing, freezing, seizure and confiscation of proceeds of corruption. In conclusion corruption has no single solution but requires broad-based, multifaceted and sustained approach.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.



Transparency International (TI)

Kaufmann, D ‘Corruption, Governance and Security: Challenges for the Rich Countries and the World’ (2004) World Bank Global Competitiveness Report 2004/2005.

United Nations Convention against Corruption adopted December 2003 in Mexico. This treaty entered into force on 15 December 2005

United Nations Convention against Trans-national Organised Crime

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) The Global Programme against Corruption: UN Anti-Corruption Toolkit (2004)

Muhammad Imran Ali

Author: Muhammad Imran Ali

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court Lahore and an LLD (Public Law) Candidate at the University of Pretoria South Africa. His areas of practice include criminal law and child laws.