The paper adopts a theoretical connection between corruption and human rights. Corruption poses serious challenges to development, good governance, rule of law and human rights. Former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, “Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime…” This implies that corruption is a serious impediment to the realization of human rights, democracy and peace. The paper looks at corruption and the violation of human rights from a power-relation standpoint, as it reflects an unequal relationship between the subject and object of power. From this outlook, corruption and the violation of human rights encompass a social phenomenon which concerns the distribution of benefits among different groups of people and individuals.
Corruption infringes human rights by facilitating an environment in which the violation can take place. This paper has made an attempt to illustrate how corruption undermines human rights in diverse forms and degrees, from rejecting the basic rights of people to threatening their lives. The abuse of human rights will be persistent if corruption does not stop. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.
Corruption negatively impacts the enjoyments of all human rights- civil, political, economic, social and cultural as well as the right to development which underscores the indivisible and interdependent nature of human rights. The impact on the realization of human rights depends on the level of pervasiveness, the different forms and levels of corruption. Corruption can affect human rights as an obstacle to their realization in general and as a violation of human rights in specific cases.Corruption in the public and private spheres and its proceeds are not confined within national borders, nor is its impact on human rights.
Corrupt state officials use their power to manipulate justice and at times corruption has made it possible for criminals to scape punishment. Corruption is a major barrier to fulfilling the state’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of individuals (ICHRP, 2009). It typically diverts funds from state budgets that should be dedicated to the advancement of human rights. It therefore undermines a state’s human rights obligations to maximize available resources for the progression realization of rights recognized in article 2 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.
Understanding corruption as the catalyst for the violation of human rights will serve to give us a new perspective which could lead to a more effective anti-corruption strategy. This paper seeks to clarify the interconnections between corruption and human rights. The author submits that corruption leads to violations of human rights, and describes how the two acts are connected to each other, beginning with the logical relationship between corruption and the violation of human rights and following with some illustrations to reveal the nature of the relationship.
- Corruption concerns Power, Power Relations and Abuse of Power
The term “corruption” could be defined in various ways. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” A definition given by the United Nations is “the misuse of public power, office or authority for private benefit” (Pilapitiya, 2004).
As indicated by various definitions of corruption, a core component of the term is the “abuse of power.” Corruption would never exist if there were no abuse of power. “Abuse of power” in government could refer to the abuse of the function of state authority, which is defined as “the performance of or failure to perform an act in violation of the law by a public official in the discharge of his or her functions, for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for himself or herself or for another person or entity” (ICHRP, 2009). Corruption could be found in many forms, such as bribery, extortion, negligence of duties, nepotism, cronyism, embezzlement and fraud (Pope, 2000; Terracino, 2008).
The degree of the abuse of power tends to be magnified if the power is increasing, as referred to by Lord Acton, an English historian, who wrote in a letter: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This was also restated in other words by an economist, Robert Klitgaard, who defined corruption in terms of the equation: Corruption = Monopoly Power + Discretion – Accountability (Klitgaard, 1988, cited in ICHRP, 2009).
In terms of power relations, the abuse of power involves a social relationship between human beings as either subjects, or objects of power. There must be at least two parties involved in this power relationship. From a power-relation perspective, corruption is an activity carried out by an individual or a group or groups of people who have gained access to power. It is a form of relationship between different social groups and/or individuals, and is related to the ways that power operates in a society. One way is through those who have more power and another is through those who have less power. Those with more power abuse power, while those with low power are abused. It is an asymmetric power relationship, which determines who controls whom and by what means.
The relationship between corruption and the violation of human rights is framed by unequal power relations. Both acts take place when there is abuse of power. Corruption benefits those who have access to power and abuse it, and victimizes those who do not have access to power. From this perspective, human rights are subjected to violation when power is abused by corrupt practices. Violation of human rights could be a harmful consequence of corruption. However, not all forms of human rights violations are the result of corruption; for instance, gender discrimination is likely to be caused by many factors, including the traditional values of a society which believes that women are inferior to men.
For one to fight corruption he or she should understand what corruption is. Corruption is defined as the misuse of entrusted power for private gain. In health sector, it encompasses bribery of health professionals, regulation and public officials unethical, research diversion/theft of medicines and medical supplies fraudulent overbilling of health services absenteeism, informal payments embezzlement and corruption in health procurement. In a nutshell, corruption is seen as a dishonest, illegal and improper use of public power and authority contrary to the rights of citizens. Human right on the other hand are fundamental and inalienable rights which are essentials for life as a human being. The corruption can cause, great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental of physical health.
The victims of corruption and those of human rights violations are often the same groups of people. These victims suffer from the abuse of power by those who have more power than they do. Many times, the victims of corruption are vulnerable and marginalized people, such as those who are already suffering from discriminations on the basis of gender, economic status, ethnicity etc. Corruption just brings even more difficulties into their lives. This situation then becomes a double exploitation by the “haves” acting against the “have not’s.”
- Corruption Leads to Direct and Indirect Encroachments of Human Rights:
Human rights are regarded as inherent, inalienable and universal. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. … Everyone is entitled to all the rights.” When an individual has human rights, it means the state and other actors have to respect those rights, which in principle would guarantee that no harm would come to individual persons (ICHRP, 2009). However, all forms of corruption could reduce the state’s capability to fulfill its obligations in a way in which the powerful are favored but the vulnerable are harmed, with the imposition of difficulties and threats to people’s lives. For instance, the trafficking of women, which is an organized crime and one of the worst forms of human violation, is made possible because corruption is central to its operation. Bribes are given to officials: police and immigration officers, border control officials and so on in the whole chain of officials involved.
To examine corruption in terms of how it relates to the violation of human rights, a power-relation perspective focuses on who does what to whom. Does the corrupt act itself violate human rights or does it bring about other actions which eventually lead to the violation of human rights? Who are involved in corruption and the violation of human rights? Is it the same or different actors who corrupt and abuse human rights? By exploring these questions, the consequences of corruption, which result in the violation of human rights, could be identified as two types: direct violation and indirect violation.
3.1 Direct Encroachment of Human Rights
Direct violation of human rights occurs when some corrupt acts are deliberately used as a means to violate a person’s rights. It takes place when corruption itself is a part of the violation (ICHRP, 2009). Violations of human rights, in the meantime, are acts of corruption. For example, wrongfully and unlawfully incarcerating one’s political opponent is a human rights violation and a form of political and judicial corruption. Another example perhaps is the best example to demonstrate a direct violation of human rights caused by corruption: corruption in the justice system. This type of corruption denies victims fair treatment and justice, and undermines the rule of law. For instance, a bribe offered to a judge, if accepted, definitely can affect the independence and impartiality of the judge’s ruling. In Global Corruption Barometer 2006, which surveyed people’s attitudes toward corruption in 25 countries (conducted by Transparency International), it was found that 1 in 10 households had to pay a bribe to gain access to justice. The results showed that the first rank of corruption was police and the third rank was the legal and judiciary system (Transparency International, 2007).
Corruption also affects the administration of justice when it takes place before cases reach court. It could happen through the manipulation of evidence at the police level or the altering of facts at the prosecution level (The Nation, 2003).
Corruption can directly affect rights at a macro level and a micro, local level. For example, the Indonesia case studies reveal that poor people are expected to pay bribes to teachers to obtain reports, for school uniforms, and for scholarships affecting their right to education. In Sri Lanka, where healthcare is free, patients in line for heart surgery are reportedly required to pay a bribe to hospital staff to bring them up in the line for surgery. In these cases, corruption directly impacts upon the poor people’s rights to education and health. (UNDP, The Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia and the World Bank, The Poor Speak Up, 17 stories of corruption)
Direct violation of human rights caused by corruption is also found in the provision of public services. In principle, public services should be allocated and provided for all members of the entire community without discrimination. Corruption in the provision of public services affects this principle because it requires extra payment for the delivery of services. When public officials demand or expect a bribe for doing an act which the officials are required by law to do, they are misusing their power in order to enrich themselves. A Nigerian HIV patient mentioned that “the anti- virus drugs are not given to those of us…but to those big men who bribe their way through, and we are left to suffer and scout around for the drug.” Discrimination also occurs when the use of sterile needles is ignored because some health workers extort illicit payments from patients for the use of such needles (Transparency International, 2008). Corruption in this case was an act of discrimination against those who could not afford to pay a bribe; they were denied access to essential service and were put at risk of contracting HIV infection.
In the public service, corruption which distorts the allocation of public resources could lead to discrimination and arbitrariness. For instance, a corrupt politician may alter the rules of allocation in a social program against poverty in order to benefit his/her constituency but exclude others. It is a blatant violation of the rights and entitlement of those who should have been the beneficiaries of the fund in the first place.
Corruption in public services, as described in these cases, prevents individuals from gaining access to their rights. When conditionality of access to basic human rights to such services involves corruption, it is a direct violation of human rights.
3.2 Indirect Encroachment of Human Rights
Corruption becomes a necessary condition in cases of indirect violation of human rights (ICHRP, 2009). It occurs when corruption is the origin of subsequent violations of human rights. It is an essential factor among the factors that violate human rights. This type of corruption leads to actions by other actors, which eventually adversely affect human rights. It causes deteriorating effects, but by itself it is not an act that violates human rights. Human rights are violated by an act which stems from an act of corruption. For instance, in human trafficking and other crimes, when corrupt officials turn a blind eye to those who have been trafficked and to other criminal activities in exchange for bribes, their inaction could even threaten the victims’ lives. In this example, bribes comprise an essential factor in the chain of events that lead to the violation of human rights.
Corruption is also found to be an indirect cause of human rights violation when corrupt officials seek to prevent exposure of their corruption. In the framework of power relations, corruption is an instrument that helps to sustain the order in which the powerful would often gain advantage. Corrupt officials will use all means to protect and maintain their position of power, a situation which may cause further violations of human rights.
Corruption is similarly related to the violation of the human rights of whistle-blowers. It is corruption which causes such people to blow the whistle but this act results in all kinds of human rights abuses and violations against them. Whistle-blowing and witness protection are key concerns when incorporating into an anti-corruption framework, human rights protection measures for those who expose corruption and are victimized by corruption. A well-designed program for protecting witnesses in corruption cases and whistle-blowers is urgently needed for protecting these persons from violence and all forms of human rights violations. Such mechanisms may include ensuring the confidentiality and identity of the witnesses and whistle-blowers, providing special forces to safeguard their lives and their families’ safety, providing financial support and job security, and psychological counseling services, among other such measures. In the meantime, such measures are likely to contribute to a more effective anti-corruption strategy. If the lives of the witnesses and the whistle-blowers are threatened with danger, it should not be surprising that they would remain silent. On the other hand, if there are certain conditions which could ensure their safety, it is likely that they would release more useful information which would enhance the advancement of the investigation into corruption cases. These protection measures would also encourage other would-be whistle- blowers and create confidence among the public to report corruption cases to the authorities.
- Grand Corruption Increases Violations of Human Rights, Conflict and Violence.
Grand and endemic forms of corruption create mass victimization, which may result in threats to the rule of law, people’s lives and massive incidents of violence. They involve the abuse of power on a large scale.
As aptly described by C.Raj Kumar, an Indian writer, ‘First, corruption dilutes human rights in a significant way, although it is rarely observed and understood from this perspective. Second, an institutionalized form of corruption creates mass victimization resulting in a threat to rule of law, democratic governance and the social fabric in Indian society. Third, human rights discourse is a powerful resistance to violation of various rights and the problem of corruption can be addressed by framing it from the standpoint of it being a human rights violation. Fourth, the benefit of developing corruption as a human rights issue will be enhanced due to development of international human rights law, along with national developments in constitutional rights, legal rights and judicially recognized rights. Fifth, the corruption problem, when framed as a human rights issue, can empower the judiciary to enforce certain rights for the citizenry and to demand a transparent, accountable and corruption free system of governance in India and also help monitor the process’ (Raj Kumar.C, Corruption and Human Rights – Promoting Transparency in Governance and the Fundamental Right to Corruption-Free Service in India )
- Corruption Aggravates Violations of Human Rights and Exploitation
The impacts of corruption tend to be harsher for disadvantaged groups of people, such as minorities, the poor, migrant workers, and disabled persons, who are relatively marginalized and powerless. This phenomenon could be explained from a power-relation perspective. Corrupt people who posses’ higher status and power attempt to maintain their position of power. In doing so, it is easier to further oppress people under their domination because they are vulnerable and lack power. Disadvantaged people tend to be exploited more often and are less able to defend themselves than more well-off people.
In this sense, corruption is an instrument that helps to define, sustain, expand or reduce the social order on the basis of unequal power between the powerful and the powerless. Persons in positions of power involved in corruption would attempt to maintain the status quo. Those who benefit from corruption would try by every means, including further corruption, to maintain their power. As a result, people who are not in a position of power, especially and vulnerable groups, are further oppressed and rendered unable to prevent any change in this power relationship. In other words, corruption reinforces the exclusion of the vulnerable groups and violations of human rights. For instance, corruption contributes to human trafficking, which is a modern form of slavery and the worst form of human exploitation. According to a United States government report, a correlation has been found between corruption and trafficking. The level of corruption has been perceived to correlate with standard efforts being made against trafficking. That is to say a state with a low level of perceived corruption is likely to have higher standards against trafficking (Lezertua, 2003). As mentioned previously, the victims of human trafficking are usually the most vulnerable or underprivileged groups of people, such as the poor, illegal migrants, minorities and women. These victims lose total control over their lives and are stripped of their self-determination and sometimes even their lives. This serious crime could not be possible if the authorities were not paid off by organized crime for either facilitating the traffickers or neglecting their duty by looking the other way. Organized criminals often bribe border guards and use personal networks to move their victims across countries.
From the above illustrations, it is now established as a fact that corruption is a threat to the realization of Human Rights. The only way that the full realization of the full enjoyment of human rights would occur is through the combating of corruption and among other threats. As seen above, human rights and corruption are related in ways in which corruption leads to violations of human rights. Acts of corruption can directly and indirectly violate human rights, especially those of the disadvantaged. These two acts are complimentary. Reducing one helps to lessen the other. Resolving one issue could possibly lead to another issue. Therefore, anti-corruption measures need a human rights perspective. Similarly, effective human rights protection measures need to incorporate and integrate anti-corruption measures as well.
When violations of human rights are portrayed as being a result of corruption, this will raise the awareness of people concerning the consequences of corruption on the well-being of individuals. This perspective helps to demonstrate clearly to the public the destructive effects of corruption on human beings. Trafficking in human beings is so inhumane that it might create a common spirit and public support for the cause of attempting to limit or eliminate corruption. The negative impacts of corruption on humanity would thus be more convincing and tangible to the public. People will have more understanding about the detrimental effects of corruption when seeing that it can threaten their lives. They will have greater sympathy for the victims of corruption because they are the same victims of human rights violations. Any individual could become one of the unfortunate victims if the state is not able to protect them and if the public remains passive and unaware. Public support for combating corruption will create demands and
put pressure on the government to be committed more seriously to this cause and generate the true political will to eradicate corruption. Giving a human face to corruption may lead to more effective anti-corruption strategies through better awareness of the destructive effects of corruption,
Considering the issues of corruption and human rights through the lens of power relations enables us to see them as relationship between different social groups or individuals who are able to access power differently. We see that it is an asymmetric relationship between the subjects and objects of power. Both acts are social phenomena which concern the distribution of benefits between different groups of people and individuals. From this perspective, fighting corruption is fighting against powers that lack integrity and abuse power. This explains why corruption is a difficult and painful problem. However, if those who are powerless are empowered and synergized with courage, commitment and patience, the problem of corruption could be tackled. Perhaps the hopes and dreams of people to build a corruption-free society may be possible.
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