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UNCAC reviews: 184 countries, 6 languages, limited funding, tight deadlines — what could possibly go wrong?

UNODC’s Dr. Oliver LandwehrDr. Oliver Landwehr has been a legal officer at the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Vienna since 2012. His job is conducting country reviews under the framework set out in the UN Convention against Corruption.

It’s hard work. But he took time this week to brief a MACS (Master) class from the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Vienna. We tagged along.

There are 184 parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, or UNCAC. Each party is supposed to have two reviews.

The first cycle of reviews started in 2010 and covers the UNCAC chapters on criminalization and law enforcement, and international cooperation.

The second cycle started in late 2015 and covers preventive measures and asset recovery.

UNODC — that’s who Dr. Landwehr works for — is the secretariat of what’s called the Implementation Review Mechanism or IRM. The IRM is the review framework set out in the UN Convention against Corruption.

So far, 162 countries have been through the first cycle.

In the second cycle, less than 10 of the reviews are complete.

In addition to being reviewed, each State party must also perform from one to three reviews of other States.

This peer review process is cooperative, not adversarial. It’s supposed to help countries implement the UN Convention against Corruption. The two peers (countries) who perform each review are picked from a hat — one from the same regional group as the country under review and one from outside the region.

The UN, including UNODC, has six official languages — English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese. Each reviewer works in one of those languages, and the country under review might work in a third language.

So each review might involve parties working in (at least) three languages.

Beyond the obstacles created by different languages, it can be hard to measure and assess different legal traditions and systems. (American lawyers face this issue in a small way when they encounter civil law in Louisiana, say, as opposed to English common law in all the other states.)

And then, of course, there are constraints on funding and resources. Right now, Dr. Landwehr is one of 15 lawyers at UNODC involved in the country reviews. His name is on the reports for Cambodia, Ireland, and Sweden, among others.

When the reviews reveal gaps in a State member’s compliance with the UN Convention against Corruption, the ideal scenario is for UNODC to send in technical experts to help put things right. But with the funding constraints, that doesn’t always happen.

Are the UNODC peer reviews effective? All the reports are public and posted online. It’s not in-your-face naming and shaming. But like the OECD Working Group reviews, it puts pressure on governments and their enforcement agencies to do better. And it supports civil society groups, local journalists, academics and others in their calls for reform.

Countries that aren’t compliant with the UN Convention against Corruption also risk losing access to money. The multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, now refer to UNODC country reviews when weighing funding decisions.

The second cycle of reviews that started in late 2015 covers some important ground.

What are the country’s anti-corruption policies and bodies? How are civil servants recruited and retained? Are there codes of conduct for public officials? What about freedom of information laws and mechanisms? What’s the standard of integrity in the judiciary? What role do civil society groups play?


Our thanks to UNODC’s Dr. Oliver Landwehr for his time this week, and for most of the above information. (Any inaccuracies are our fault, not his.)


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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1 Comment

  1. Crisp and spot on. I can't help but wonder why the international community is not resourcing the IRM sufficiently in light of the overt importance and global unanimity on fighting corruption. Could there be a subtle preference of alternative mechanisms.?

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