9 December 2022. As the world celebrates the International Anti-Corruption Day and the 24th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December 2022, we, the undersigned organisations and individuals, urge all UN Member States to end reprisals against anti-corruption human rights defenders, and to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the human rights of everyone including those working to promote and defend the rights of other people and to fight and expose corruption.
Anti-corruption human rights defenders – journalists, members of civil society organisations, whistleblowers, and others – play a crucial role in the prevention of and in the fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights. Over the years, they have been instrumental in investigating and exposing corrupt practices and in demanding transparency and accountability and the protection of human rights. We observe, however, that those who work to expose corruption are often not recognised as human rights defenders, and their efforts may be invisible to the wider human rights community or seen as separate from or peripheral to human rights work.
We note that the role and active involvement of anti-corruption human rights defenders in anti-corruption efforts has been widely recognised in many international and regional anti-corruption instruments, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) adopted in 2003. Among other things, UNCAC requires states parties to promote the “active participation” of anti-corruption defenders, by “respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption” (Article 13). In addition, the political declaration on corruption adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2021 reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to recognise the important role that civil society, academia, the private sector and the media play in the detection, prevention and fight against corruption.
We are seriously concerned about the escalating reports of violence, threats, harassment, intimidation, attacks and persecution of anti-corruption human rights defenders and the impunity following on from this persecution in several states.
Anti-corruption human rights defenders continue to face real risk of physical attack, arbitrary arrest, and prosecution simply for exercising their human rights including to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. And states continue to pass laws to restrict access to information while failing to take effective actions to prevent the harassment, intimidation and attacks against those who dare to expose corruption and its impacts on human rights, and to bring suspected perpetrators of the attacks to justice.
We note that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in her recent report documents several cases of violence, threats, intimidation, harassment, attacks and persecution against anti-corruption human rights defenders. According to the report, hundreds of defenders all over the world face smear campaigns, criminalization, and judicial harassment, and are killed every year for their peaceful work in defence of the rights of others. Very few perpetrators are brought to account for these murders, which only enables the cycle of killings to continue.
We also note that some attacks on defenders are gender-based and that many defenders have been targeted for their work in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic or for fighting against corruption affecting their local communities. Women human rights defenders working against corruption are also often attacked not only for what they do but for who they are.
Continouous threats and attacks against anti-corruption human rights defenders
We continue to receive reports of increasing threats and attacks against anti-corruption human rights defenders, including whistleblowers. These constitute clear violations of internationally recognised human rights including to life, freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, access to information and media freedom.
The threats, intimidation, harassment and persecution also amount to a breach of the legal obligations of states under the various human rights treaties to which they are states parties, And we believe it is imperative to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of anti-corruption defenders to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the rights of other people, and to improve the implementation of states’ legal obligations under the various human rights and anti-corruption treaties to which they are parties.
We therefore call on all UN Member States to:
foster a safe and enabling environment, to ensure that anti-corruption defenders are able to freely carry out their activities in full respect of their human rights and in the defence of the human rights of other people and the fight against corruption without fear of reprisals;
adopt and implement legislative and other measures for the protection of anti-corruption human defenders, if they do not exist, in line with human rights and anti-corruption standards;
effectively respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of everyone to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly including of those working to promote and defend the rights of other people and to fight and expose corruption, in accordance with Article 13 of UNCAC;
end impunity by thoroughly, impartially, independently, transparently and effectively investigating reports of attacks against defenders in their states, and bringing to justice suspected perpetrators, and ensuring access to justice and effective remedies for victims;
publicly recognise the value of the work of anti-corruption human rights defenders and denounce threats and attacks against them, consistent with the provisions of UNCAC, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.