Who will stand up to corruption?

An unidentified man stands near a gas flare belonging to the Agip Oil company in Idu Ogba, Niger Delta area of Nigeria, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006.OPEC and the European Union agreed in Vienna Wednesday to maintain a close "energy dialogue," stressing the importance of working together to help stabilize and secure the world's oil markets. Edmund Daukoru, Nigeria's oil minister and president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, met with Martin Bartenstein, the energy minister of Austria, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. In a statement, the EU presidency said both reaffirmed the need to stay in close touch on energy issues. (AP Photo/George Osodi)

To some, corruption may appear a victimless crime. But for a vast number of people, especially in the developing world, corruption manifests itself as poverty, disease, injustice, inequality, oppressive rule, instability and, too often, war.

The economist Jeffrey Sachs also recently reminded us that corruption is not something that happens “somewhere else”: “The UK and the US are at the center of the system of global abuse…hundreds of thousands of lawyers, bankers, hedge fund operators, politicians, accountants and regulators have consciously built a system of global tax havens of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich that now hosts more than $20tn (yes, trillion) of funds hiding from taxes, law authorities, environmental regulation and accountability.”

Despite the scale of the problem, the global anti-corruption movement didn’t begin in earnest until 1993 with the establishment of two new NGOs: Transparency International (TI) and my own organisation, Global Witness. Since then, we have come to better understand the impacts of corruption, governments and international organizations are increasingly taking action to combat it, and more organisations are working on the issue. Yet corruption is still at the heart of many of the world’s most pressing problems.

In the broadest sense, corruption undermines countries’ legal obligations to promote and protect human rights. The myopia of Saudi Arabia’s chief allies when it comes to the country’s appalling record of human rights abuse is a prime example. Former United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Tony Blair famously called off a police investigation into corruption surrounding the Al-Yamamah arms deal and today, the British continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia in spite of the latter’s widely criticised bombing campaign in Yemen, which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. New evidence now points to the use of UK-manufactured cluster bombs in these attacks, despite the fact that this type of weapon is banned under international law.

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