Opening Remarks for the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption

Luis E. Arreaga
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
St. Petersburg, Russia
November 2, 2015

On behalf of the United States delegation, please allow me to begin by expressing condolences to Russia and to the families of the passengers who were lost in the tragic plane crash Saturday. The United states extends it's sympathies to the families and friends of those who died. Our prayers and thoughts are with you.

Today, we have heard about the trillions of dollars corruption costs our countries as it reduces competitiveness and diminishes growth. Others have mentioned, and correctly so, the millions who are harmed by corruption, whether it’s because they can’t pay a bribe to get their child medical care; or when a criminal makes illegal payments to escape justice and goes on to harm others; or when natural resources are destroyed for personal gain.

The persistence of this scourge, even a dozen years after we agreed to binding global rules to combat it, could lead some to believe that we cannot end corruption.

To the skeptics we say, the fact that it is difficult to end corruption does not mean we shouldn’t fight it. We certainly don’t take that position when it comes to other complex global challenges, such as protecting the environment or eliminating poverty.

We have it within our power to enforce anti-corruption standards.

  • We can use the Convention’s tools and share best practices with one another;
  • We can prevent corruption by increasing transparency, integrity rules, and strong systems, particularly in areas such as procurement and budget management; and
  • We can commit to prosecute the corrupt, and to make every effort to recover the proceeds of their crimes.

The United States is proud to be among those at the forefront of this fight:

  • We strongly defend the independence of investigators, prosecutors, and judges in our country;
  • We promote anti-corruption standards globally through partnerships and practitioner-to-practitioner cooperation; and,
  • We invest hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance each year for anticorruption and related good governance programs worldwide.

For example:

  • Last month the United States increased our support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, by $5 million. Its fearless work deserves the global community’s support so it can continue to root out corruption;
  • The United States also developed a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which consists of specialized teams of prosecutors who ensure foreign corruption proceeds benefit those harmed by abuse of office. These teams are currently litigating cases involving more than a billion dollars of assets tied to foreign corruption, and have already returned over $143 million to victims of corruption.
  • We also provide training to governments, in countries like Ukraine, and to civil society organizations, in countries like Nigeria and Sierra Leone, to enhance their capacity to combat corruption.

We are also cognizant that good-faith efforts by the United States or of any single country will never be enough: we all must work together to adopt and enforce international standards of integrity, accountability, and transparency.

This is more important than ever because people, markets, and commerce are increasingly interconnected and this creates more opportunities for bad actors and corruption. Every treaty, transaction, and investment rests on a foundation of laws: the more they are compatible, consistent, and meet a higher standard, the better off we will all be.

All of us share a responsibility to implement the convention’s anti-corruption standards, to foster international cooperation; and to promote development assistance that is coordinated, effective, and based on each country’s needs.

It is essential that we use the Convention’s tools set including those that advance more effective asset recovery.

We must draw on all sectors of our societies to fight corruption, including civil society organizations and the private sector. We have nothing to hide and much to gain from their constructive engagement with us in the Conference of States Parties and its subsidiary bodies.

This week, we have several opportunities to continue the progress we have made:

We must support the UNCAC review mechanism so it can smoothly transition to a second cycle. The United States will continue to support the compromises reached in 2009, including on the basic terms by which the mechanism operates.

However, the issues presented in the Asset Recovery and Prevention Chapters are remarkably broad. A review cycle that covers all provisions of both chapters, with the same checklist approach, potentially could overwhelm reviewers, countries under review, and the Secretariat.

One lesson learned in 2011 that we are facing once again is that we must make plans within the finite human and financial resources of our anti-corruption efforts – including at home and at the United Nations. We should make limited, careful adjustments so our peer reviews in the next cycle are effective and cost efficient.

In looking forward to an asset recovery resolution for the Sixth COSP, my delegation has proposed a draft text this week.

The most important goals of any text we adopt should:

  • Maintain a balanced and technical outlook that avoids political statements that will not achieve consensus;
  • Reinforce good practices identified over the last two years in the Asset Recovery Working Group;
  • Recognize that asset recovery is a highly technical, difficult process that requires a significant amount of work by experts from all countries involved;
  • Use the Asset Recovery Working Group to address sensitive issues that require meaningful and ongoing dialogue at the expert level; and
  • Avoid language that departs from the purpose and the text of the Convention.

Looking to the next five year cycle, the United States remains committed to an approach that uses the limited resources we have wisely; can handle the enormous tasks that remain undone; and confronts new challenges that are as of yet unknown.

Thank you.