Why Corruption Matters in Human Rights

Why Corruption Matters in Human Rights Abstract Corruption and human rights are intimately connected in the real life experiences of people in most parts of the world. Corruption matters in human rights because it is a promising entry point to analyse and understand the acts and events that precede the violent act of the human rights violation. Corruption is not an inconsequential anecdote in human rights work, analysis or activism. Corruption and rights violations, as actualized or implied corporal violence, are manifestations of the same root causes and produced by the same conditions. Hence, they should not be separated in policy or analysis in global and national efforts to improve the lives of the poor who suffer the most from systems plagued by widespread corruption and violence. For human rights research and practice, it is important to make corruption a central issue and raise our gaze beyond notions of state and state centred analysis and intervention, with a focus on the actual practices. Human rights and corruption have been addressed as separate domains of knowledge in international academic and practical work, as distinct domains of discourse, explored as legal transgressions and institutional deficiencies, global in nature and effect but locally situated and practised. Whereas violence and torture is a violation of the individual by a dysfunctional state, corruption constitutes a transgression of the market and the functioning of the state. Each domain has its own legal treaties, conventions, and standards, and tools of assessment, rectification and improvement. These domains manifest themselves through policy mandates and offices equipped with expert staff and representatives, even some UN special rapporteurs, which produce specialized investigative reports of their deliberations, assessments and recommendations. Violence and corruption are social phenomena and practices that essentially can best be understood in the particular situation and approached as context specific. Nonetheless, definitions can be used as a heuristic device to explicate the view of the world and how we make sense of it. For example, a definition of politics will affect our understanding of what is political and what political corruption entails. Along these lines, I look at human rights from the perspective of transgressions and violations of national and international laws and standards that unfold as physical harm, actualized or implied, that are situated in national political and economic structures.1 In this paper I work with a combination of approaches to political corruption. It has its point of departure in Heidenheimer’s well known distinction between white, black and grey corruption (2009). In the words of Heywood: ‘One which is accepted and tolerated, its opposite which is widely rejected and criticized, and intermediate forms which elicit different responses from different groups’ (1997: 424). It further develops Alatas’s approach that refers to the abuse of trust in the interest of private gain. He distinguishes between ‘transactive’ and ‘extortive’ corruption. Transactive refers to an arrangement between a giver and a taker, pursued by and to the advantage of both parties. Extortive refers to compulsion or force, to avoid or fend off some form of harm or impediment being inflicted on the giver or on individuals close to him/her (Alatas 1990). Regardless of these definitional deliberations, the two fields of human rights and corruption closely intersect with international policy frames and institutions, especially the UN system.2 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption and, notably, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are powerful frames and tools for policy development, reform practices and resource allocation, framing the work that we, as practitioners or academics, do, the analyses we make and the ways we do it. Hafner-Burton has convincingly illustrated the bureaucratization of human rights and the magnitude of the technical machinery employed to promote and advance human rights on a global scale (2013). Charlesworth and Larking’s analysis of UN Universal Periodic Reviews as rituals is illuminating and telling (2014). If we add to this the domains of corruption and good governance as well as development, as I suggest is necessary, the machinery required to identify problems and come up with viable solutions to rectify undesirable situations and conditions becomes massive and almost incomprehensible in scale and scope. Yet Keck and Sikkink’s analysis of feedback and boomerang effects contends that human rights work has initiated and accomplished positive changes on a global scale over time, which is encouraging (1998). Nonetheless, both fields in the end target problems which are similarly situated, since anti-corruption and the protection of human rights rest on accountable, representative government committed to equality and transparency (Pearson 2013). And there is no doubt that human rights as well as work on anti-corruption, good governance and rule of law have effects on the ground, though often not as initially intended or as planned. Regardless of definitions, there is a growing recognition that successes are hard to identify, even in in-house evaluations of country-specific programmes and projects. At times, the initiatives have fostered and even underlined the problems they were established to eradicate. After more than 20 years of attention and interventions, both corruption and human rights violations appear to continue to flourish, even in the countries that have been the target of substantial reforms, despite some signs of improvements in rights practices (Hafner-Burton 2013; Heywood 2015). Recent developments in Hungary, Poland and Turkey have shown us that this tendency is not limited to developing countries, where rights vocabularies and policies have been conflated and subdued by the swift domestication of international security discourse and measures (Rutzen 2015). Kenya and Bangladesh are telling examples of such paradoxes. However, from the viewpoint of everyday life this does not really matter. In most parts of the world, corruption and human rights violations are experienced by people in their daily dealings with state institutions and local authorities as being interlinked, entangled and interdependent, often systemic in character, and closely associated with state making processes and national transformations and political configurations of power (Kumar 2011; Gupta 2012).3 As such, these practices cannot be reduced to either rights transgressions or ‘bad’ governance or lack of sustainable development. Much human rights work addresses incidents and experiences of violence as violations after their occurrence. The demand for improvement and rectification of laws, regulations, procedures and practices and behaviours are reactive, so to speak. Yet they are aimed at and used for prevention, in order to salvage a bad situation, be it political governance, state structures, or institutional practices, attitudes and behaviours, in an attempt thereby to do away with the causes of violations and transgressions. In the global reform movement, attempts to improve state accountability, good governance and rule of law tend to focus on naming-blaming-and-shaming strategies, through documentation and advocacy work; this approach concentrates on programmes for reform of institutions by amending laws and regulations, and changing practices by building local capacity through training. This involves signing international conventions, and introducing legal reform and institutional improvements such as reforming command responsibilities and oversight. This is followed by new procedures for recruitment, promotion, assignment and so on, often combined with education of staff in key sectors of justice, law enforcement, correction, and service provision to induce behavioural change through the implantation of ‘new’ knowledge, mainly along the lines of particular international conventions and standards. Cooperation with local authorities and institutions, being, at the same time, the targets and agents of change, is seen by the global reform movement as crucial for success. The people who are the target of reform efforts—police, judges, prosecutors, correction officers, and civil bureaucracy— many with a university law degree, are often well aware of national and international law and good governance and human rights standards. In their professional capacity, they know corruption and violence are illegal according to national and international law and detrimental to state accountability, and realize their practices are illegitimate and unlawful. More of the same, in the form of reform and training, will not change this fact, nor apparently has it substantially changed their outlook and behaviour, since the results of such interventions have been disappointing (De Maria 2010; Heeks and Mathisen 2012; Mungiu-Pippidi 2015; Rothstein et al. 2013). It will simply fuel and keep the global community of professional reformers and trainers busy. It is paradoxical that the change that global reformers are looking for and work to achieve is political, but their interventions and practices are technical, instrumental and compartmentalized along sectors, often detached from the grounded political realities, which can hardly be isolated in particular institutional settings, so that differentiation between problems related to corruption becomes difficult, if not impossible. In this process, political corruption which unfolds as corruption–violence linkages is generally underemphasized (Johnston 2005: 19–21). ‘Unwillingness’ of the government, targeted institutions and specific professionals is the preferred concept used by reformers when things are not moving in the desired or projected direction. ‘Lack of resources’ is the state’s and government’s explanation for the same problem. However, these distinctions between and labelling of blame and responsibilities do not provide a constructive framework for analysis or action. From the perspective of ordinary people, corruption and human rights cannot be separated. They are part of the same problem, and the people involved in both corrupt practices and human rights violations are often the same as well: corruption typically benefits the elite minorities with access, money and expertise to manoeuvre institutions and processes for their own or their group’s particular interests. Transgressions as the ordinary In many countries, corruption and violence, actualized or implied, are integral parts of social life that define state–citizen relations when people interact with state institutions and agents. With this in mind, human rights, rights violations and corruption should never be disconnected from the socioeconomic order and mainstream politics. This is exemplified in Bangladesh where, if people come in contact with law enforcement agencies, threats of violence and bodily harm are regularly used to force confessions and/or extort money from people and their families for release—often with more or less formalized state-sanctioned impunity (Alam and Teicher 2012; Islam 2013; Sharma and Andersen 2017). The situation has been described as a rule through law system in which the government secures its own power base by use of state institutions, including law enforcement agencies, and distribution of state resources (Andersen 2016). Monetary transactions such as paying of bribes or the activation of resource networks, be they political or economic, are common, and necessary to solve problems. So while people talk of torture and corruption as an evil, they engage in and condone disreputable, underhand and violent practices every day. Arif drives his motorcycle on Elephant Road in central Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is pulled over by a traffic police officer. Arif does not have the papers for the motorcycle and he does not wear a helmet as the law prescribes. The officer is willing to ignore the violations for a small token of appreciation. Arif pays. He pays because of the silent yet salient threat of arrest, detention and possible violence during incarceration, which is very common at Bangladesh police stations. Siddique is a political activist of the opposition. In a heightened political environment, he and fellow activists are targeted by the authorities. This is common in Bangladesh, regardless of the party in government. He is arrested, detained and implicated in a case of illegal arms possession that the police have not been able to solve. He denies involvement. The police beat him up and inform his family that he is detained. When the family arrives at the station, the police demand ‘bail’ money for his release. They severely beat Siddique while the family is at the police station, to speed up payment. The family hear him scream. They pay. Siddique is released but the charges remain. Such incidents generate a huge backlog at the courts with large numbers of cases pending trial. It creates an institutional situation where the probability of prolonged detention and remand as well as the opportunity for manipulation of charges and trial court lists is increased and almost becomes expected and regarded as a normal routine. These two stories are examples. They illustrate numerous similar experiences I have encountered in my work on politics, corruption and human rights in recent years. Both stories show the plight of people in a context of disrupted legal systems and absence of rule of law. People are somehow compelled to cooperate with corrupt practices in order to survive, defend themselves and fend off threats to their lives and livelihood. As such, they reiterate that which they try to escape and thereby most often negatively affects their lives. The persistence of disrupted systems relies on this adverse reiteration. However, this reiteration cannot be reduced to a regimented grand plan of political and economic oppression and subjugation. It is subtler, as it unfolds in everyday encounters between state authorities and people, citizens. What the two stories above do not show is the life circumstances and professional conditions of the law enforcers. This changes the perspective and approach to corrupt practices and behaviours from rotten apples to barrels, trees and even orchards (Punch 2009), across institutions (routines and standard procedures) and systems, to (societally) shared mindsets. It marks a shift from an inherent focus on the bribe taker to the bribe giver and system manipulator, from individual practices and behaviours and one-to-one encounters characterized by principal–agent relations, to shared mentalities and institutional cultures as social problematics. This reaches beyond the notion of political will as a motivator for and instigator of substantial social change including reformulating and reshaping of structures, institutions and practices, as it touches on collective action problematics (Rothstein 2011). This is illustrated if we change perspective, to look at the ‘other’ side of corruption practices. While working on a research project exploring human rights documentation practices in Bangladesh, I had private talks with several law enforcement officers. Generally, the officers complained about political interference in their work. This unfolded as a demand for arrest of activists of the political opposition to curb violent activities and underground actions, which in practice became transformed into a demand for the arrest of all active opposition activists. This came in addition to the regular demands for solving cases, creating and sustaining the groundwork for forced confessions and the arrest ‘business’ (release from arrest and threats of arrest for money). This again was coupled with a demand for payment up the system. In other words, the higher level officers expected part of the business income. Low salaries are of course the most obvious reason for such corrupt practices throughout the system but the demand is not restricted to monetary notions of transactional greed. It is driven by a mix of institutional expectations of promotions, economic prosperity and societal notions of social status. Akash is a police officer. He was first in his class at Dhaka University and chose the police as his life career. He was honest and believed that his merits would be enough to get what he expected in his professional life. However, over the years he was bypassed by people less competent than himself and with a poorer performance record, in promotions and attractive postings. In the end he was utterly frustrated. He got a loan of 100,000 Bangladesh taka and began to look for an attractive position which he could secure by paying his way up through the organizational hierarchy. He had thought he could be honest but came to realize that bribery was necessary to fulfil his ambitions and achieve the social status he desired. He talked about the money as an investment—an investment and opportunity he would have to cover and make use of by demanding money from subordinate officers and by accepting bribes. This was in no way what he had expected to become when he chose to be an officer. And these practices are exactly those that turn people away from the police in times of crisis. Together the above examples illustrate lived experiences of corruption and violence, and show the linkages between corruption and human rights domains, thinking and practices. The practices in the encounters between state authorities and citizens cannot be isolated as a one-sided singular and momentary event. Such encounters connect not just petty and grand corruption, or administrative and political corruption, but also show how systematic structural violence unfolds in everyday life in police beatings of randomly selected and targeted individuals. The employment of physical violence by state authorities arises from the convergence of corruption and human rights violations and shows that individual acts are manifestations of systematic practices. This elevates the event and issue at hand from compartmentalized thinking and technical practices to politics and the political arena, which opens up scope for analysis and dialogue about societal root causes and collective mindsets and how society (and interventions) might be changed for the better. Furthermore, the ways in which people manage everyday problems and deal with dramatic shocks such as violent encounters—for example, where they seek assistance—teaches us a great deal about their perception of, and their reliance and trust in, state authorities and institutions. Identifying violations Recently I was part of a team conducting a study in a Dhaka bosti (slum) that showed that a large majority, 70.6 per cent, when asked about the availability of assistance in case of a violent event, said police would help them in exchange for money. NGOs were not the obvious alternative since about 7.5 percent thought assistance from NGOs was sometimes available, and two per cent thought it could be obtained in exchange for money. The survey further showed that only 12 out of 72 identified victims of violence sought assistance from the police. Four victims received actual assistance from the police and no one reported assistance from NGOs (Choudhoury et al. 2016). This is hardly a surprising result, since the capacity of human rights organizations does not match the extent and depth of the problems they encounter and attempt to change. They work with insufficient human capacities, logistical means and financial resources in their attempt to hold state authorities accountable and to assist survivors. Consequently, many instances of human rights violations cannot be documented, and the extent of torture and its individual (or family) and societal ramifications, whether social, economic or political, is underperceived (Jensen et al. 2017). As the survey indicates, NGOs are not isolated from the society in which they work and which they positively attempt to change. Human rights activists and organizations also have to cooperate with authorities and align with corrupt practices to settle issues. For example, the driver of a vocal human rights organization was repeatedly stopped by the police demanding money for not arresting him on fabricated charges, harassing the organization through extortion, the threat of violence and legal actions. The driver had to deal with the threat in the immediate present to avoid actualization of physical harm and organizational damage. The end result is a reiteration of the very practices and consequences that the organization tries to counter by working to improve the rule of law and holding state authorities accountable. The collusion of politics and corrupt practices is difficult to evade. Activists share the same everyday problems as the rest of society. This is not a matter of morality, which individualizes structural conditions. Substantial change is political and reaches beyond individuals and institutions, rules and regulations into the field of impartiality, political contention, social norms and shared mindsets. Somehow we miss the point when we disregard the fact that the majority of people are preoccupied with minimizing risks, solving problems and maintaining safety—not working for gain. This is similar to what Alatas has called defensive corruption, which is inversely integrated to the concept of extortive corruption that entails some form of compulsion, usually to avoid some form of harm being inflicted on the person making payment or those close to him/her (Alatas 1990). Can we expect awareness and education to stop a police officer violating people’s rights or taking bribes in a system where risks are high, salaries are low, opportunities and rewards are secured through loyalty to the powerful elite, and impunity is certain? Can we expect individual citizens to stand against the system when the risks are real and ramifications for their life and livelihood serious and severe? As such, we cannot and should not overlook the importance and impact of corruption on human rights and in human rights work. Corruption in the above form might be approached as a cause of human rights violations but it is also a violation by and in itself. For people living under such conditions experiencing failing rule of law, corruption is not purely a cause of failing legal systems, and institutions. It is also an effect of political rule and governance, which impacts on lives and livelihoods and reaches beyond the individual into the family, and it is a means or tool to avoid, fend off and escape uncertain situations and uneven relations with authorities, and to prevent or end ongoing human rights violations. This is not a discussion for or against human rights work, its relevance and applicability, and its attachment or detachment from social and political realities in different social settings and contexts—realities which people have to deal with on an everyday basis to survive and secure life and livelihood. Human rights are an aspiration of a just and fair society, not an end-condition to be attained and completed through reforms, speeches or conferences, but constantly worked on and for. One can argue that they are the constitutive opposite of the corrupt society. Anti-corruption and the protection of human rights depend on accountable, representative government committed to equality and transparency (Pearson 2013). Yet violations are easier to identify and to voice than adherence. Forms of problems are the target of the work; compliance is not dramatic and rarely attracts wider public attention. Corruption matters in human rights and for human rights work because it is inseparable from perceptions of justice, fairness and equal access in the countries that are the sites of reform efforts. Corruption is intimately linked to human rights violations in people’s everyday lives, and in their dealings with authority, whether formal or informal. To overlook corruption in human rights work is to somehow ignore many of the dynamics and processes that are at the root of human rights violations. Endemic violations as singular cases Corruption as an endemic social reality in many, if not most, countries and regions of the world structures and is intimately interlinked with human rights violations, making analysis of the latter as isolated incidents (as is often the case in human rights fact-finding and documentation) untenable and to a certain extent futile, if we are to use the information for adequate and relevant assistance and prevention. The tendency to zero in on the drama of the violation, in the instant it takes place, both in terms of temporality and intimacy, be it the experiences, injuries and/or consequences of the act, renders analysis and assistance momentary, superficial and focused on the abusive event. Corruption, just like human rights violations, is never a singular entity or event; it is a complex of social and political practice that reaches beyond the individualized act. Reducing the event to a singular act rarely provides new insights that can help us to understand underlying reasons and causes (including the motivations and interests of people at different social and political levels) for people’s involvement in the transgression, or the interconnectedness of the acts or the actors. In my work with human rights organizations in Bangladesh, I asked if corruption mattered in the cases they had encountered, documented and archived. The answer from all three organizations was yes, but they did not record the attempts of extortion, bribing or local mediation by the parties involved—the authorities and/or victims—because it was not seen as important in their work of providing assistance to get justice and redress. It was considered normal, expected, an integral part of state–citizen encounters. The violation, often corporal and violent, was the crux of the matter, whereas the attempts to settle the issue or conflict through a (monetary) transaction were not registered, unless it was documented as part of the victim’s narrative, and was not used directly for legal action. It was not that the transactions or attempts to resolve issues through transactions were not important, as they did at times settle conflicts and free people from detention and unsafe situations, but they were not considered to be necessary information when violence had been employed and human rights violated. Consequently, this information was often left out of reports. This has two implications for human rights work. First, we don’t get to know the extent of corruption in human rights violations, simply because it is rarely registered and the incidents that are solved before rights have been violated violently do not come to the notice of human rights activists—it could be a matter of corruption or misuse of authority, perceived to be within a governance domain. But, we could ask: are threats of violence not a human rights violation? Second, how can we prevent human rights violations, the realization of the latent threat, if we don’t understand the dynamics and the processes of the relations between citizens and authorities and their interconnectedness to the wider social and political context, such as rule of law practices and corruption? A police officer’s transgression of the law and citizens’ integrity is hardly an isolated singular extraordinary occurrence completely detached from the surrounding society. On the contrary, it is an effect of larger social, economic and, especially, political configurations. As Rose-Ackermann states, widespread corruption is a sign that something has gone wrong in the relationship between the state and society (1997: 34). Corruption matters for human rights and in human rights work, because it is a promising entry point to analyse and understand many of the acts and events that precede the violent act of the human rights violation. We should not approach corruption as an anecdote in human rights work, analysis or activism. Corruption and rights violations are manifestations of the same root causes and produced by the same conditions of failing rule of law, inequality and oppression and opportunism by elite minorities. What to do? In standard development discourse we talk about top-down or bottom-up approaches to social change: either we work with the political level of society to change policies, legal frameworks and procedures within state institutions and agencies, or we start from the bottom, mobilizing civil society and capacitating people as activists to voice concerns, document violations and abuses and pressure governments (at the national level and in international arenas), holding state authorities accountable, and demanding transparency, access to justice and redress. However, anti-corruption good governance work and human rights work are increasingly dominated by reform initiatives that somehow attempt to address the middle ground between the top and the bottom when targeting the administrative levels of state governance. Institutions and legal frameworks have become the point of departure for interventions for improvement and rectification of rules, procedures and practices—somehow seeing bureaucracy as agents of social change and at the same time disregarding political contestations and understanding between elites and people as a foundation for inducing substantial changes in society. The challenge is how far can efforts that target administrative corruption go in addressing political corruption? And at what level? The lessons from Denmark and Sweden show that the change towards a professional, merit-based and functioning bureaucracy happened over the course of few generations, step by step. It was not based on a predefined grand plan and scheme for targeted interventions against corruption and corrupt behaviours. Changes developed alongside a political process that substantially changed power configurations, institutions and thinking within those societies (Rothstein 2011). More recent experiences from Singapore and Hong Kong show that to create a situation where change is possible, the top and the bottom, elite and ordinary people, need to work for the same aim and according to the same agenda, politically supported and sustained over time (Root 1996; Speville 1998; Quah 1988). In Denmark and Sweden, changes were initiated on the basis of defeat in war and failed political and territorial ambitions which began a path towards meritocracy and transparency, and later democracy and social equality. In Singapore and Hong Kong changes were initiated on the basis of risks of diminishing investments and a declining economy. These examples, however, show that democracy is not a necessary concomitant of combating corruption: that is, combating corruption does not necessarily result in, or result from, a democratic transition and good governance and transparency, nor does combating corruption need to have its basis in a transition to democracy. Singapore was never a democracy and Hong Kong has been challenged on its governance system since it became part of the People’s Republic of China. Pearson argues that since corruption has a deleterious effect on the rights of people when tolerance of corruption by states through action or omission can result in breaches of human rights, human rights as an integral part of international law needs to be linked with international discussions and actions against corruption (2013), thus advocating for using the human rights discourse and mechanisms4 to combat corruption. This changes the perspective and ways of problematizing governance and rule of law, but nonetheless reiterates the strategies and offers the same solutions that so far have not yielded the promised results. Mungiu-Pippidi in similar vein sees the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) as an important but unutilized and unfulfilled mechanism to keep governments in check and hold them to account (2015). However, UNCAC reviews5 should be seen as a tool for stirring collective action for accountability to society, not to government or international bodies. This should include national reviews and checks, instead of international, which so far have had limited impact on practices such as corruption in the countries where good governance and accountability are most needed. If elite minorities, politicians and business actors agreed on and supported such a process, international mechanisms would be a value added, yet the starting point must be national institutions under a rule of law regime. The obvious problem is to initiate the process of changing state–citizen relations, create and sustain trust in institutions, and ensure wide support and long lasting political willingness for change. This cannot be addressed without considering the configuration of power and inequality in all its forms, social, economic, and political, as well as in regard to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and culture. History has shown us that elite minorities do not change by themselves—they need help and conducive conditions, and the process is not a one-off exercise but a sustained endeavour that takes place at many levels of the state, involving a range of institutions and citizens. The main challenge is not in getting the technicalities right, and compartmentalizing thinking and practice, but to address power political configurations head on. Without addressing political rule and systematic inequality, it is very difficult to expect substantial improvements on governance and on human rights in the societies and the institutions that are the targets of reform policies and interventions (Andersen 2015). Yet we are left with the conundrum of how to initiate a process of change and how to bring the elite minorities into the process. This is a particularly difficult challenge in countries where the collusion of politics and business is an ever growing feature, subverting markets, rule of law and governance with devastating effects on lives, livelihoods and the environment. The mid-level strategy of change, reforming, refining and fine-tuning of rules, institutions and practices, appears to have failed to produce the expected results and improvements. A reason for this could be that this strategy was utilized in many settings and contexts, often on a large scale, before conducive conditions were in place. Reform, as the word indicates, comes after a political process of change is initiated, not as the lever or instrument to induce the change. Perhaps the work should instead focus on understanding, nurturing and supporting the conditions of change in context. Changing mindsets is an endeavour which is specific to that particular political and social context. On the one hand, it could include civic education on rights and access to services and justice, maybe even from an early age in schools, not just when urgently needed. This involves equipping people with the knowledge and tools to hold the state accountable to national legislation and its duties towards its citizens. On the other hand, it could include sustained efforts targeting the elite minorities to see rule of law, impartiality and participation as conducive for development across a broad spectrum, including the economy and investment. Without this group seriously taking on their responsibility as citizens who are part of a shared society, actively engaged in creating the conditions for change, experience shows there is likely to be little progress, beyond words and signing of treaties and agreements with little chance of implementation and utilization. While conventions and agreements might provide a framework for actions, leadership willingness and popular support are the basic foundations for substantial societal changes.. What do we do, when not changing society for the better is in the interests of the ruling elite minority? For human rights research and practice, it is important to make corruption a central issue. We need to raise our gaze beyond notions of state and state-centred analysis and intervention, and to focus on the actual practices and how the interests of elite minorities undermine rule of law, increase inequality and destroy the environment. When electoral politics in many parts of the world increasingly are populated and dominated by people known from the business community, it might indicate that a limited focus on the state, state laws and state institutions is insufficient as an effort to improve society for the benefit of its citizens. We need to address the complexities in the linkages and interdependencies between corruption and human rights, if our thinking, actions and interventions, are to be contextually relevant adequate and conducive for substantial changes in conditions, values and mindsets. Funding This work was supported by Samfund og Erhverv, Det Frie Forskningsråd (Danish Council for Independent Research, Social Sciences), DFF–4003-00099. Footnotes 1 The emphasis on physical violence, actualized or implied, does not in any way overlook or disregard psychological, economic or social effects and consequences of violence. 2 Other policy frameworks also play an important role in defining these domains and interventions, for example, those of the UN Development Programme, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Union (EU), and so on. I use the UN conventions and systems as a heuristic device to illuminate the challenges of separating and intersecting these policy frameworks in our analysis of their applicability and relevance for substantial changes in situations of failing rule of law and inequality. 3 In 2014 the Committee against Torture highlighted such relationships (UN Committee against Torture 2014). The new Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16, similarly emphasize these relationships (see http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice). 4 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; one could add treaty bodies such as the UN Committee against Torture, and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council. 5 The UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism is a peer review process, with each state party reviewed by two peers (see https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/new/ReviewMechanism.html). Acknowledgements I thank the reviewers for comments and suggestions for improvements. References Alam Q. , Teicher J. . 2012 . The State of Governance in Bangladesh: The Capture of State Institutions . Journal of South Asian Studies XXXV ( 4 ): 858 − 84 . Alatas S. H. 1990 . Corruption: its Nature, Causes and Consequences . Aldershot : Avebury . Andersen M. K. 2015 . 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UN Convention against Corruption , 31 October 2003 (entered into force 14 December 2005). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Human Rights Practice Oxford University Press

Why Corruption Matters in Human Rights

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Abstract

Abstract Corruption and human rights are intimately connected in the real life experiences of people in most parts of the world. Corruption matters in human rights because it is a promising entry point to analyse and understand the acts and events that precede the violent act of the human rights violation. Corruption is not an inconsequential anecdote in human rights work, analysis or activism. Corruption and rights violations, as actualized or implied corporal violence, are manifestations of the same root causes and produced by the same conditions. Hence, they should not be separated in policy or analysis in global and national efforts to improve the lives of the poor who suffer the most from systems plagued by widespread corruption and violence. For human rights research and practice, it is important to make corruption a central issue and raise our gaze beyond notions of state and state centred analysis and intervention, with a focus on the actual practices. Human rights and corruption have been addressed as separate domains of knowledge in international academic and practical work, as distinct domains of discourse, explored as legal transgressions and institutional deficiencies, global in nature and effect but locally situated and practised. Whereas violence and torture is a violation of the individual by a dysfunctional state, corruption constitutes a transgression of the market and the functioning of the state. Each domain has its own legal treaties, conventions, and standards, and tools of assessment, rectification and improvement. These domains manifest themselves through policy mandates and offices equipped with expert staff and representatives, even some UN special rapporteurs, which produce specialized investigative reports of their deliberations, assessments and recommendations. Violence and corruption are social phenomena and practices that essentially can best be understood in the particular situation and approached as context specific. Nonetheless, definitions can be used as a heuristic device to explicate the view of the world and how we make sense of it. For example, a definition of politics will affect our understanding of what is political and what political corruption entails. Along these lines, I look at human rights from the perspective of transgressions and violations of national and international laws and standards that unfold as physical harm, actualized or implied, that are situated in national political and economic structures.1 In this paper I work with a combination of approaches to political corruption. It has its point of departure in Heidenheimer’s well known distinction between white, black and grey corruption (2009). In the words of Heywood: ‘One which is accepted and tolerated, its opposite which is widely rejected and criticized, and intermediate forms which elicit different responses from different groups’ (1997: 424). It further develops Alatas’s approach that refers to the abuse of trust in the interest of private gain. He distinguishes between ‘transactive’ and ‘extortive’ corruption. Transactive refers to an arrangement between a giver and a taker, pursued by and to the advantage of both parties. Extortive refers to compulsion or force, to avoid or fend off some form of harm or impediment being inflicted on the giver or on individuals close to him/her (Alatas 1990). Regardless of these definitional deliberations, the two fields of human rights and corruption closely intersect with international policy frames and institutions, especially the UN system.2 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption and, notably, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are powerful frames and tools for policy development, reform practices and resource allocation, framing the work that we, as practitioners or academics, do, the analyses we make and the ways we do it. Hafner-Burton has convincingly illustrated the bureaucratization of human rights and the magnitude of the technical machinery employed to promote and advance human rights on a global scale (2013). Charlesworth and Larking’s analysis of UN Universal Periodic Reviews as rituals is illuminating and telling (2014). If we add to this the domains of corruption and good governance as well as development, as I suggest is necessary, the machinery required to identify problems and come up with viable solutions to rectify undesirable situations and conditions becomes massive and almost incomprehensible in scale and scope. Yet Keck and Sikkink’s analysis of feedback and boomerang effects contends that human rights work has initiated and accomplished positive changes on a global scale over time, which is encouraging (1998). Nonetheless, both fields in the end target problems which are similarly situated, since anti-corruption and the protection of human rights rest on accountable, representative government committed to equality and transparency (Pearson 2013). And there is no doubt that human rights as well as work on anti-corruption, good governance and rule of law have effects on the ground, though often not as initially intended or as planned. Regardless of definitions, there is a growing recognition that successes are hard to identify, even in in-house evaluations of country-specific programmes and projects. At times, the initiatives have fostered and even underlined the problems they were established to eradicate. After more than 20 years of attention and interventions, both corruption and human rights violations appear to continue to flourish, even in the countries that have been the target of substantial reforms, despite some signs of improvements in rights practices (Hafner-Burton 2013; Heywood 2015). Recent developments in Hungary, Poland and Turkey have shown us that this tendency is not limited to developing countries, where rights vocabularies and policies have been conflated and subdued by the swift domestication of international security discourse and measures (Rutzen 2015). Kenya and Bangladesh are telling examples of such paradoxes. However, from the viewpoint of everyday life this does not really matter. In most parts of the world, corruption and human rights violations are experienced by people in their daily dealings with state institutions and local authorities as being interlinked, entangled and interdependent, often systemic in character, and closely associated with state making processes and national transformations and political configurations of power (Kumar 2011; Gupta 2012).3 As such, these practices cannot be reduced to either rights transgressions or ‘bad’ governance or lack of sustainable development. Much human rights work addresses incidents and experiences of violence as violations after their occurrence. The demand for improvement and rectification of laws, regulations, procedures and practices and behaviours are reactive, so to speak. Yet they are aimed at and used for prevention, in order to salvage a bad situation, be it political governance, state structures, or institutional practices, attitudes and behaviours, in an attempt thereby to do away with the causes of violations and transgressions. In the global reform movement, attempts to improve state accountability, good governance and rule of law tend to focus on naming-blaming-and-shaming strategies, through documentation and advocacy work; this approach concentrates on programmes for reform of institutions by amending laws and regulations, and changing practices by building local capacity through training. This involves signing international conventions, and introducing legal reform and institutional improvements such as reforming command responsibilities and oversight. This is followed by new procedures for recruitment, promotion, assignment and so on, often combined with education of staff in key sectors of justice, law enforcement, correction, and service provision to induce behavioural change through the implantation of ‘new’ knowledge, mainly along the lines of particular international conventions and standards. Cooperation with local authorities and institutions, being, at the same time, the targets and agents of change, is seen by the global reform movement as crucial for success. The people who are the target of reform efforts—police, judges, prosecutors, correction officers, and civil bureaucracy— many with a university law degree, are often well aware of national and international law and good governance and human rights standards. In their professional capacity, they know corruption and violence are illegal according to national and international law and detrimental to state accountability, and realize their practices are illegitimate and unlawful. More of the same, in the form of reform and training, will not change this fact, nor apparently has it substantially changed their outlook and behaviour, since the results of such interventions have been disappointing (De Maria 2010; Heeks and Mathisen 2012; Mungiu-Pippidi 2015; Rothstein et al. 2013). It will simply fuel and keep the global community of professional reformers and trainers busy. It is paradoxical that the change that global reformers are looking for and work to achieve is political, but their interventions and practices are technical, instrumental and compartmentalized along sectors, often detached from the grounded political realities, which can hardly be isolated in particular institutional settings, so that differentiation between problems related to corruption becomes difficult, if not impossible. In this process, political corruption which unfolds as corruption–violence linkages is generally underemphasized (Johnston 2005: 19–21). ‘Unwillingness’ of the government, targeted institutions and specific professionals is the preferred concept used by reformers when things are not moving in the desired or projected direction. ‘Lack of resources’ is the state’s and government’s explanation for the same problem. However, these distinctions between and labelling of blame and responsibilities do not provide a constructive framework for analysis or action. From the perspective of ordinary people, corruption and human rights cannot be separated. They are part of the same problem, and the people involved in both corrupt practices and human rights violations are often the same as well: corruption typically benefits the elite minorities with access, money and expertise to manoeuvre institutions and processes for their own or their group’s particular interests. Transgressions as the ordinary In many countries, corruption and violence, actualized or implied, are integral parts of social life that define state–citizen relations when people interact with state institutions and agents. With this in mind, human rights, rights violations and corruption should never be disconnected from the socioeconomic order and mainstream politics. This is exemplified in Bangladesh where, if people come in contact with law enforcement agencies, threats of violence and bodily harm are regularly used to force confessions and/or extort money from people and their families for release—often with more or less formalized state-sanctioned impunity (Alam and Teicher 2012; Islam 2013; Sharma and Andersen 2017). The situation has been described as a rule through law system in which the government secures its own power base by use of state institutions, including law enforcement agencies, and distribution of state resources (Andersen 2016). Monetary transactions such as paying of bribes or the activation of resource networks, be they political or economic, are common, and necessary to solve problems. So while people talk of torture and corruption as an evil, they engage in and condone disreputable, underhand and violent practices every day. Arif drives his motorcycle on Elephant Road in central Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is pulled over by a traffic police officer. Arif does not have the papers for the motorcycle and he does not wear a helmet as the law prescribes. The officer is willing to ignore the violations for a small token of appreciation. Arif pays. He pays because of the silent yet salient threat of arrest, detention and possible violence during incarceration, which is very common at Bangladesh police stations. Siddique is a political activist of the opposition. In a heightened political environment, he and fellow activists are targeted by the authorities. This is common in Bangladesh, regardless of the party in government. He is arrested, detained and implicated in a case of illegal arms possession that the police have not been able to solve. He denies involvement. The police beat him up and inform his family that he is detained. When the family arrives at the station, the police demand ‘bail’ money for his release. They severely beat Siddique while the family is at the police station, to speed up payment. The family hear him scream. They pay. Siddique is released but the charges remain. Such incidents generate a huge backlog at the courts with large numbers of cases pending trial. It creates an institutional situation where the probability of prolonged detention and remand as well as the opportunity for manipulation of charges and trial court lists is increased and almost becomes expected and regarded as a normal routine. These two stories are examples. They illustrate numerous similar experiences I have encountered in my work on politics, corruption and human rights in recent years. Both stories show the plight of people in a context of disrupted legal systems and absence of rule of law. People are somehow compelled to cooperate with corrupt practices in order to survive, defend themselves and fend off threats to their lives and livelihood. As such, they reiterate that which they try to escape and thereby most often negatively affects their lives. The persistence of disrupted systems relies on this adverse reiteration. However, this reiteration cannot be reduced to a regimented grand plan of political and economic oppression and subjugation. It is subtler, as it unfolds in everyday encounters between state authorities and people, citizens. What the two stories above do not show is the life circumstances and professional conditions of the law enforcers. This changes the perspective and approach to corrupt practices and behaviours from rotten apples to barrels, trees and even orchards (Punch 2009), across institutions (routines and standard procedures) and systems, to (societally) shared mindsets. It marks a shift from an inherent focus on the bribe taker to the bribe giver and system manipulator, from individual practices and behaviours and one-to-one encounters characterized by principal–agent relations, to shared mentalities and institutional cultures as social problematics. This reaches beyond the notion of political will as a motivator for and instigator of substantial social change including reformulating and reshaping of structures, institutions and practices, as it touches on collective action problematics (Rothstein 2011). This is illustrated if we change perspective, to look at the ‘other’ side of corruption practices. While working on a research project exploring human rights documentation practices in Bangladesh, I had private talks with several law enforcement officers. Generally, the officers complained about political interference in their work. This unfolded as a demand for arrest of activists of the political opposition to curb violent activities and underground actions, which in practice became transformed into a demand for the arrest of all active opposition activists. This came in addition to the regular demands for solving cases, creating and sustaining the groundwork for forced confessions and the arrest ‘business’ (release from arrest and threats of arrest for money). This again was coupled with a demand for payment up the system. In other words, the higher level officers expected part of the business income. Low salaries are of course the most obvious reason for such corrupt practices throughout the system but the demand is not restricted to monetary notions of transactional greed. It is driven by a mix of institutional expectations of promotions, economic prosperity and societal notions of social status. Akash is a police officer. He was first in his class at Dhaka University and chose the police as his life career. He was honest and believed that his merits would be enough to get what he expected in his professional life. However, over the years he was bypassed by people less competent than himself and with a poorer performance record, in promotions and attractive postings. In the end he was utterly frustrated. He got a loan of 100,000 Bangladesh taka and began to look for an attractive position which he could secure by paying his way up through the organizational hierarchy. He had thought he could be honest but came to realize that bribery was necessary to fulfil his ambitions and achieve the social status he desired. He talked about the money as an investment—an investment and opportunity he would have to cover and make use of by demanding money from subordinate officers and by accepting bribes. This was in no way what he had expected to become when he chose to be an officer. And these practices are exactly those that turn people away from the police in times of crisis. Together the above examples illustrate lived experiences of corruption and violence, and show the linkages between corruption and human rights domains, thinking and practices. The practices in the encounters between state authorities and citizens cannot be isolated as a one-sided singular and momentary event. Such encounters connect not just petty and grand corruption, or administrative and political corruption, but also show how systematic structural violence unfolds in everyday life in police beatings of randomly selected and targeted individuals. The employment of physical violence by state authorities arises from the convergence of corruption and human rights violations and shows that individual acts are manifestations of systematic practices. This elevates the event and issue at hand from compartmentalized thinking and technical practices to politics and the political arena, which opens up scope for analysis and dialogue about societal root causes and collective mindsets and how society (and interventions) might be changed for the better. Furthermore, the ways in which people manage everyday problems and deal with dramatic shocks such as violent encounters—for example, where they seek assistance—teaches us a great deal about their perception of, and their reliance and trust in, state authorities and institutions. Identifying violations Recently I was part of a team conducting a study in a Dhaka bosti (slum) that showed that a large majority, 70.6 per cent, when asked about the availability of assistance in case of a violent event, said police would help them in exchange for money. NGOs were not the obvious alternative since about 7.5 percent thought assistance from NGOs was sometimes available, and two per cent thought it could be obtained in exchange for money. The survey further showed that only 12 out of 72 identified victims of violence sought assistance from the police. Four victims received actual assistance from the police and no one reported assistance from NGOs (Choudhoury et al. 2016). This is hardly a surprising result, since the capacity of human rights organizations does not match the extent and depth of the problems they encounter and attempt to change. They work with insufficient human capacities, logistical means and financial resources in their attempt to hold state authorities accountable and to assist survivors. Consequently, many instances of human rights violations cannot be documented, and the extent of torture and its individual (or family) and societal ramifications, whether social, economic or political, is underperceived (Jensen et al. 2017). As the survey indicates, NGOs are not isolated from the society in which they work and which they positively attempt to change. Human rights activists and organizations also have to cooperate with authorities and align with corrupt practices to settle issues. For example, the driver of a vocal human rights organization was repeatedly stopped by the police demanding money for not arresting him on fabricated charges, harassing the organization through extortion, the threat of violence and legal actions. The driver had to deal with the threat in the immediate present to avoid actualization of physical harm and organizational damage. The end result is a reiteration of the very practices and consequences that the organization tries to counter by working to improve the rule of law and holding state authorities accountable. The collusion of politics and corrupt practices is difficult to evade. Activists share the same everyday problems as the rest of society. This is not a matter of morality, which individualizes structural conditions. Substantial change is political and reaches beyond individuals and institutions, rules and regulations into the field of impartiality, political contention, social norms and shared mindsets. Somehow we miss the point when we disregard the fact that the majority of people are preoccupied with minimizing risks, solving problems and maintaining safety—not working for gain. This is similar to what Alatas has called defensive corruption, which is inversely integrated to the concept of extortive corruption that entails some form of compulsion, usually to avoid some form of harm being inflicted on the person making payment or those close to him/her (Alatas 1990). Can we expect awareness and education to stop a police officer violating people’s rights or taking bribes in a system where risks are high, salaries are low, opportunities and rewards are secured through loyalty to the powerful elite, and impunity is certain? Can we expect individual citizens to stand against the system when the risks are real and ramifications for their life and livelihood serious and severe? As such, we cannot and should not overlook the importance and impact of corruption on human rights and in human rights work. Corruption in the above form might be approached as a cause of human rights violations but it is also a violation by and in itself. For people living under such conditions experiencing failing rule of law, corruption is not purely a cause of failing legal systems, and institutions. It is also an effect of political rule and governance, which impacts on lives and livelihoods and reaches beyond the individual into the family, and it is a means or tool to avoid, fend off and escape uncertain situations and uneven relations with authorities, and to prevent or end ongoing human rights violations. This is not a discussion for or against human rights work, its relevance and applicability, and its attachment or detachment from social and political realities in different social settings and contexts—realities which people have to deal with on an everyday basis to survive and secure life and livelihood. Human rights are an aspiration of a just and fair society, not an end-condition to be attained and completed through reforms, speeches or conferences, but constantly worked on and for. One can argue that they are the constitutive opposite of the corrupt society. Anti-corruption and the protection of human rights depend on accountable, representative government committed to equality and transparency (Pearson 2013). Yet violations are easier to identify and to voice than adherence. Forms of problems are the target of the work; compliance is not dramatic and rarely attracts wider public attention. Corruption matters in human rights and for human rights work because it is inseparable from perceptions of justice, fairness and equal access in the countries that are the sites of reform efforts. Corruption is intimately linked to human rights violations in people’s everyday lives, and in their dealings with authority, whether formal or informal. To overlook corruption in human rights work is to somehow ignore many of the dynamics and processes that are at the root of human rights violations. Endemic violations as singular cases Corruption as an endemic social reality in many, if not most, countries and regions of the world structures and is intimately interlinked with human rights violations, making analysis of the latter as isolated incidents (as is often the case in human rights fact-finding and documentation) untenable and to a certain extent futile, if we are to use the information for adequate and relevant assistance and prevention. The tendency to zero in on the drama of the violation, in the instant it takes place, both in terms of temporality and intimacy, be it the experiences, injuries and/or consequences of the act, renders analysis and assistance momentary, superficial and focused on the abusive event. Corruption, just like human rights violations, is never a singular entity or event; it is a complex of social and political practice that reaches beyond the individualized act. Reducing the event to a singular act rarely provides new insights that can help us to understand underlying reasons and causes (including the motivations and interests of people at different social and political levels) for people’s involvement in the transgression, or the interconnectedness of the acts or the actors. In my work with human rights organizations in Bangladesh, I asked if corruption mattered in the cases they had encountered, documented and archived. The answer from all three organizations was yes, but they did not record the attempts of extortion, bribing or local mediation by the parties involved—the authorities and/or victims—because it was not seen as important in their work of providing assistance to get justice and redress. It was considered normal, expected, an integral part of state–citizen encounters. The violation, often corporal and violent, was the crux of the matter, whereas the attempts to settle the issue or conflict through a (monetary) transaction were not registered, unless it was documented as part of the victim’s narrative, and was not used directly for legal action. It was not that the transactions or attempts to resolve issues through transactions were not important, as they did at times settle conflicts and free people from detention and unsafe situations, but they were not considered to be necessary information when violence had been employed and human rights violated. Consequently, this information was often left out of reports. This has two implications for human rights work. First, we don’t get to know the extent of corruption in human rights violations, simply because it is rarely registered and the incidents that are solved before rights have been violated violently do not come to the notice of human rights activists—it could be a matter of corruption or misuse of authority, perceived to be within a governance domain. But, we could ask: are threats of violence not a human rights violation? Second, how can we prevent human rights violations, the realization of the latent threat, if we don’t understand the dynamics and the processes of the relations between citizens and authorities and their interconnectedness to the wider social and political context, such as rule of law practices and corruption? A police officer’s transgression of the law and citizens’ integrity is hardly an isolated singular extraordinary occurrence completely detached from the surrounding society. On the contrary, it is an effect of larger social, economic and, especially, political configurations. As Rose-Ackermann states, widespread corruption is a sign that something has gone wrong in the relationship between the state and society (1997: 34). Corruption matters for human rights and in human rights work, because it is a promising entry point to analyse and understand many of the acts and events that precede the violent act of the human rights violation. We should not approach corruption as an anecdote in human rights work, analysis or activism. Corruption and rights violations are manifestations of the same root causes and produced by the same conditions of failing rule of law, inequality and oppression and opportunism by elite minorities. What to do? In standard development discourse we talk about top-down or bottom-up approaches to social change: either we work with the political level of society to change policies, legal frameworks and procedures within state institutions and agencies, or we start from the bottom, mobilizing civil society and capacitating people as activists to voice concerns, document violations and abuses and pressure governments (at the national level and in international arenas), holding state authorities accountable, and demanding transparency, access to justice and redress. However, anti-corruption good governance work and human rights work are increasingly dominated by reform initiatives that somehow attempt to address the middle ground between the top and the bottom when targeting the administrative levels of state governance. Institutions and legal frameworks have become the point of departure for interventions for improvement and rectification of rules, procedures and practices—somehow seeing bureaucracy as agents of social change and at the same time disregarding political contestations and understanding between elites and people as a foundation for inducing substantial changes in society. The challenge is how far can efforts that target administrative corruption go in addressing political corruption? And at what level? The lessons from Denmark and Sweden show that the change towards a professional, merit-based and functioning bureaucracy happened over the course of few generations, step by step. It was not based on a predefined grand plan and scheme for targeted interventions against corruption and corrupt behaviours. Changes developed alongside a political process that substantially changed power configurations, institutions and thinking within those societies (Rothstein 2011). More recent experiences from Singapore and Hong Kong show that to create a situation where change is possible, the top and the bottom, elite and ordinary people, need to work for the same aim and according to the same agenda, politically supported and sustained over time (Root 1996; Speville 1998; Quah 1988). In Denmark and Sweden, changes were initiated on the basis of defeat in war and failed political and territorial ambitions which began a path towards meritocracy and transparency, and later democracy and social equality. In Singapore and Hong Kong changes were initiated on the basis of risks of diminishing investments and a declining economy. These examples, however, show that democracy is not a necessary concomitant of combating corruption: that is, combating corruption does not necessarily result in, or result from, a democratic transition and good governance and transparency, nor does combating corruption need to have its basis in a transition to democracy. Singapore was never a democracy and Hong Kong has been challenged on its governance system since it became part of the People’s Republic of China. Pearson argues that since corruption has a deleterious effect on the rights of people when tolerance of corruption by states through action or omission can result in breaches of human rights, human rights as an integral part of international law needs to be linked with international discussions and actions against corruption (2013), thus advocating for using the human rights discourse and mechanisms4 to combat corruption. This changes the perspective and ways of problematizing governance and rule of law, but nonetheless reiterates the strategies and offers the same solutions that so far have not yielded the promised results. Mungiu-Pippidi in similar vein sees the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) as an important but unutilized and unfulfilled mechanism to keep governments in check and hold them to account (2015). However, UNCAC reviews5 should be seen as a tool for stirring collective action for accountability to society, not to government or international bodies. This should include national reviews and checks, instead of international, which so far have had limited impact on practices such as corruption in the countries where good governance and accountability are most needed. If elite minorities, politicians and business actors agreed on and supported such a process, international mechanisms would be a value added, yet the starting point must be national institutions under a rule of law regime. The obvious problem is to initiate the process of changing state–citizen relations, create and sustain trust in institutions, and ensure wide support and long lasting political willingness for change. This cannot be addressed without considering the configuration of power and inequality in all its forms, social, economic, and political, as well as in regard to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and culture. History has shown us that elite minorities do not change by themselves—they need help and conducive conditions, and the process is not a one-off exercise but a sustained endeavour that takes place at many levels of the state, involving a range of institutions and citizens. The main challenge is not in getting the technicalities right, and compartmentalizing thinking and practice, but to address power political configurations head on. Without addressing political rule and systematic inequality, it is very difficult to expect substantial improvements on governance and on human rights in the societies and the institutions that are the targets of reform policies and interventions (Andersen 2015). Yet we are left with the conundrum of how to initiate a process of change and how to bring the elite minorities into the process. This is a particularly difficult challenge in countries where the collusion of politics and business is an ever growing feature, subverting markets, rule of law and governance with devastating effects on lives, livelihoods and the environment. The mid-level strategy of change, reforming, refining and fine-tuning of rules, institutions and practices, appears to have failed to produce the expected results and improvements. A reason for this could be that this strategy was utilized in many settings and contexts, often on a large scale, before conducive conditions were in place. Reform, as the word indicates, comes after a political process of change is initiated, not as the lever or instrument to induce the change. Perhaps the work should instead focus on understanding, nurturing and supporting the conditions of change in context. Changing mindsets is an endeavour which is specific to that particular political and social context. On the one hand, it could include civic education on rights and access to services and justice, maybe even from an early age in schools, not just when urgently needed. This involves equipping people with the knowledge and tools to hold the state accountable to national legislation and its duties towards its citizens. On the other hand, it could include sustained efforts targeting the elite minorities to see rule of law, impartiality and participation as conducive for development across a broad spectrum, including the economy and investment. Without this group seriously taking on their responsibility as citizens who are part of a shared society, actively engaged in creating the conditions for change, experience shows there is likely to be little progress, beyond words and signing of treaties and agreements with little chance of implementation and utilization. While conventions and agreements might provide a framework for actions, leadership willingness and popular support are the basic foundations for substantial societal changes.. What do we do, when not changing society for the better is in the interests of the ruling elite minority? For human rights research and practice, it is important to make corruption a central issue. We need to raise our gaze beyond notions of state and state-centred analysis and intervention, and to focus on the actual practices and how the interests of elite minorities undermine rule of law, increase inequality and destroy the environment. When electoral politics in many parts of the world increasingly are populated and dominated by people known from the business community, it might indicate that a limited focus on the state, state laws and state institutions is insufficient as an effort to improve society for the benefit of its citizens. We need to address the complexities in the linkages and interdependencies between corruption and human rights, if our thinking, actions and interventions, are to be contextually relevant adequate and conducive for substantial changes in conditions, values and mindsets. Funding This work was supported by Samfund og Erhverv, Det Frie Forskningsråd (Danish Council for Independent Research, Social Sciences), DFF–4003-00099. Footnotes 1 The emphasis on physical violence, actualized or implied, does not in any way overlook or disregard psychological, economic or social effects and consequences of violence. 2 Other policy frameworks also play an important role in defining these domains and interventions, for example, those of the UN Development Programme, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Union (EU), and so on. 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UN Convention against Corruption , 31 October 2003 (entered into force 14 December 2005). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Journal of Human Rights PracticeOxford University Press

Published: Mar 14, 2018

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