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.
Read more: Who will stand up to corruption?