Is freedom from corruption a human right? That is, should we understand it as one? The world does not now think of corruption that way. Major international anti-corruption conventions, such as the OECD Convention Against Bribery or UN Convention Against Corruption, do not frame corruption as a rights violation. Neither do the human rights instruments, such as UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the two International Covenants, include corruption among their lists of internationally recognized rights.
The world does of course recognize that corruption can be a means by which other rights are violated. Think of the right to due process, or representation, or basic human services. No controversy there. But I want to ask a deeper question: should we think of corruption not merely as a means of violating other rights, but as an independent, free-standing human right?
In this white paper written for the Brookings Institution, Matthew Murray (presently with the U.S. Department of Commerce) and I argue that we should indeed think of freedom from corruption in this way: as a right that all persons have, irrespective of culture of or social position, one that governments can violate but cannot take away.
And we think it’s far more than an academic discussion. It matters for how we understand the relationship between corruption and the status quo. It changes the way we think about, and respond to, systemic corruption, particularly in those places where corruption is so prevalent that citizens can’t imagine life ever being otherwise. So too can it change the way we understand the purposes of enforcing anti-corruption laws, including and especially the FCPA.
The next post will show how freedom from corruption is regarded as a fundamental right, or its equivalent, in systems of social thought the world over. In the third and final post, I’ll explain why it matters.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.