Corruption as violation of human rights. The Council of Europe anti-corruption instruments and mechanisms

Corruption is generally associable with aggravation of a state economic position, exacerbation of social problems, increase of inequality and injustice within society, erosion of people’s trust in government and deterioration of a countries image in the world. However, it should be emphasized, the fact that corruption undermines such universal values as human rights is totally ignored.

This article is proposed to examine existing anti-corruption instruments and mechanisms in the Council of Europe framework by analysing the impact of corruption on violation of human rights.

Although corruption existed prior to the establishment of such international organisations as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, it is absolutely not surprising that in 1945–1950 anti-corruption efforts were not the centrepiece of states’ policies.

As referred to in the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, …”[1]. This statement explains the reasons of the United Nations and the Council of Europe establishment in 1945 and in 1949.

The main purposes of the United Nations (according to Article 1 of the Charter) are: to maintain international peace and security; to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace; to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.[2]

Core values of the Council of Europe are: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Formally, the international community expressed concern and readiness to fight corruption only by the end of 1990s through adopting a number of instruments at the United Nations and the Council of Europe levels.

On 27 January 1999, the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption was adopted. The Convention proclaimed that corruption threatens:

— the rule of law;

— democracy;

— human rights;

— undermines the principles of good governance, fairness and social justice;

— distorts competition;

— hinders economic development;

— endangers the stability of democratic institutions and moral foundations of society.[3]

In 2003, the Preamble of the United Nations Convention against Corruption laid emphasis on “corrosive” effect of corruption on certain areas of the society and its most important factors; as well as on a fact that corruption is not a local matter but a transnational phenomenon that effects all societies and economies. [4]

Among these factors, I would like to highlight the following:[5]

— threatening stability and security of the society;

— undermining the values and institutions of democracy, ethical values and justice;

— jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law;

— threatening political stability and sustainable development of states.


Imagine that you have given a hearing to all those occurrences mentioned above, and were asked a question “What kind of phenomenon could have possibly caused that kind of effect?”

As for my answer I would name such threats to the world order as war and terrorism, which beyond any doubt undermine all the values including the government system. For example, in Ukraine as a result of systemic corruption which turned into a real calamity, safety of citizens is under serious threat, basically leading to a humanitarian disaster. In fact, abuse of power, unjust enrichment of officials using public resources cannot leave people with strong civil position indifferent, especially regarding authorities they have elected.

In my opinion, the devastating consequences of corruption can be compared to global violation of human rights. Cause-and-effect relationship can be detected between corruption and violation of human rights, as the first one gives rise to the second. And vice versa, a failure to respect human rights provokes a surge of corruption.

On rare occasions, corruption schemes had positive effect on fulfillment of human rights. In this context, it would be appropriate to mention the “Schindler’s list” film which illustrated how Oscar Schindler saved lives of over a thousand polish Jews during the Holocaust by paying bribes to SS officers.

Although corruption causes devastating effect, it appears that inhuman internal policy, for example in China, North Korea and Vietnam, where capital punishment is imposed for such a crime, is unjustifiable as the level of corrupt practices in these countries still remains high.

It is commonly known that corruption by its nature is a complex phenomenon with economic, social, political and cultural dimensions, which cannot be easily eliminated by ad hoc measures.[6]

Moreover, corruption arises on different basis, such as: poverty, greediness, irresponsibility, cultural background.

Corruption exists in different forms such as: a bribe – the most popular form of corruption; so called “kickback”, which is commonly used in the relationship between business sector and state agents; embezzlement; favouritism; nepotism and frequently used extortion.

Corruption is not a specific phenomenon associated solely with developing countries; we can also find it in developed economies.

In this regard it is worth to draw attention to the corrupt practices in the European Union member states. In 2014, the European Commission first report provided a detailed overview of corruption levels in all 28 EU member states.

According to the European Commission report, corruption is estimated to cost the EU economy 120 billion Euro per year, just a little less that the annual budget of the European Union.[7]

The report examines the situation in all 28 EU member states, being based on a well-defined structure, which includes overall anti-corruption policy overview, survey data, corruption trend data, areas of vulnerability to corrupt practices, recommendations on implementation of essential anti-corruption measures.

According to the survey the lowest number of those having experienced bribery was indicated in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The highest percentages of bribery were indicated in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Bulgaria.[8]

Corruption risk areas are also outlined in the report. For example, petty corruption remains prevalent in some countries, especially in health care services.

Corruption at regional and local levels was also included into the risk area. Fighting it requires transparent standards, declaration of income, measures of prevention and conflicts of interest as well as strict government expenditures control.

The report identifies the sectors vulnerable to corruption, such as urban construction and health care services, also focusing on procurements and pharmaceutical industry. The third sector covers corrupt practices in tax administration.

The major corruption risks are tax evasion through off-shore zones and money laundering through banking systems which take place within a financial sector.

The report lays particular emphasis on public procurement (tenders). According to the study research held in 2013 by “PricewaterhouseCoopers” and ECORYS, the overall direct cost of corruption for 8 EU Member States related only for five sectors of public procurement (roads and rail, water and waste, urban/utility construction, trainings, research and development) is estimated to the amount from 1.4 to 2.2 billion Euro.[9] According to the European Commission estimation for each country, the sector of public procurement is the most vulnerable one to corruption.

As for the Russian Federation, anti-corruption efforts started to become high priority in government’s agenda during recent years. Anti-corruption laws, rules and plans are being adopted at the national level, corrupt scandals and exposures are being covered by mass media.

Nevertheless, it appears that insufficient attention is paid to this problem on national level, inter alia, it would be beneficial if the best international practices are implemented in our country.

Thus, it would be relevant to consider the Council of Europe instruments and monitoring mechanisms.

The Council of Europe is pursuing a comprehensive approach against corruption and money laundering by setting standards in the form of conventions and «soft law» instruments (recommendations and resolutions), and by monitoring their compliance with Council of Europe and global standards through its monitoring mechanisms: the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL).

The Council of Europe has a unique expertise in the field of combating corruption through its multidisciplinary approach, which consists of three interrelated elements: the setting of European norms and standards, monitoring of compliance with the standards and capacity building/technical advice offered to individual countries and regions, through its co-operation activities.[10]

The anti-corruption instruments of the Council of Europe include the following:

Monitoring of compliance with the standards is provided by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).[11]

GRECO monitoring comprises:

The evaluation process follows a well-defined procedure, where a team of experts is appointed by GRECO for the evaluation of a particular member. The analysis of the situation in each country is carried out on the basis of written replies to a questionnaire and information gathered in meetings with public officials and representatives of civil society during an on-site visit to the country. Following the on-site visit, the team of experts drafts a report which is communicated to the country under scrutiny for comments before it is finally submitted to GRECO for examination and adoption.

To date GRECO has launched 4 evaluation rounds focused on specific provisions of the 20 Guiding Principles (and associated provisions of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption).[12]

The first evaluation round was launched on 1 January 2000. The covered issues included: dealt with the independence, specialization and means of national bodies engaged in the prevention and fight against corruption; the extent and scope of immunities of public officials.

The second evaluation round was launched on 1 January 2003. The covered issues included: seizure and confiscation of corruption proceeds; efficiency and transparency; links between corruption, organized crime and money laundering.

The third evaluation round was launched on 1 January 2007. The following aspects were evaluated:

— criminalization, in the context of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the Additional Protocol to the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and Guiding principle no. 2;

— transparency of party funding with reference to the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Member states on common rules against corruption in the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns.

GRECO’s forth evaluation round, launched on January 2012, was intended to combat corruption in activities of parliament members, judges and prosecutors, including evaluation of ethical principles and codes of conduct, conflicts of interest, prohibition of certain activities, assets and income declarations, etc.

It’s worth noting that the Russian Federation was one of the countries having been monitored over 21–25 April 2008 within the framework of the first and the second evaluation rounds. GRECO provided 26 recommendations for the Russian authorities, most of them were implemented.[13]

The Russian Federation has also been monitored in the framework of the third evaluation round over 3–7 October 2011.

As it appears from above, political changes, legislative and institutional reforms are directly required by GRECO in a form of recommendations. According to the results of their implementation evaluation report on carrying out GRECO’s recommendations by a certain country is adopted.

Upon consideration of standard setting and monitoring compliance, it would be logical to view the third component in the chain of the Council of Europe anti-corruption instruments and mechanisms i.e. technical cooperation.

The Department of Action against Crime and, more specifically, Economic Crime Cooperation Unit, are in charge for anti-corruption projects on behalf of the Council of Europe.

Lately, 13 projects were implemented in different countries by the mentioned Unit. Among them, the following projects were intended to combat corruption:

It should be noted that the projects mentioned above are mainly implemented in developing countries and are intended for a period of 2−3 years.

In the present time, the Council of Europe anti-corruption projects are implemented in Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic. The purposes of the mentioned projects are fight against corruption, strengthening of anti-corruption mechanisms and judiciary capacity, development of good governance.

Most of these projects are joint initiatives of the European Union and the Council of Europe. A significant part of these projects’ funding comes from the European Union (as a general practice, through the program “Partnership for Modernization”), and implemented by means of the Council of Europe human resources.

For example, at the moment a joint project of the European Union and the Council of Europe on Protection of the Rights of Entrepreneurs in the Russian Federation from Corrupt Practices (PRECOP-RF) is being implemented. This project is intended to strengthen the role of a rather new institution of the Ombudsmen for the Protection of Entrepreneurs Rights in the Russian Federation, and implementing the best international anti-corrupt practices in business sector.

Using an example of the Russian project we can briefly describe the way the project is governed by the Council of Europe.

It would be logical to begin with the budget. The PRECOP-RF project budget is 1,300,000 Euro allocated for 36 months. By using them, the Council of Europe is committed to provide the work plan agreed with the main beneficiary (the Business Ombudsmen institution).

The beneficiary of the project often gets an idea that this cooperation is an instrument of political control imposed by the European counterpart. The European side in their turn reminds that the Russian Federation as a member of the Council of Europe contributes financially into realization of such projects, being the main contributor to the annual budget of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe budget for 2014 is € 402,694,300, and the contribution of the Russian Federation is € 32,280,879. [14]

Though, it should be taken into account that the Russian Federation has been and remains one of the largest contributors to the Council of Europe budget, regardless of taking part in any joint projects.

As it was mentioned above, according to the work plan adopted jointly by both European and Russian parties, a project team consisting of a manager in Strasbourg and a coordinator in Russia initiate the development of activities. They mainly take the form of seminars, trainings and study visits. The Council of Europe experts prepare comparative analyses of international and Russian practices, handbooks, training programs, etc. Then the parties develop the focus group (as a rule, including a lot of regional representatives), who compose the audience of a certain activity and have the opportunity to ask questions, to make comments and contribute to the project directly by giving recommendations in order to improve documents developed by experts.

Concerning the method of project activities, it should be noted that they are delivered in a very productive and human-oriented approach. Notwithstanding that almost all mentioned activities are mainly educational, they are focused on needs of participants and usually through collection of feedback demonstrate a reasonably flexible approach.

Nevertheless, this brings up a logical question of judgment. When is it possible to evaluate the effectiveness and the efficiency of such projects’ influence on definite tasks and problems solutions? For example, PROCOP-RF held a range of activities intended to strengthen the institution of the Business Ombudsmen Offices, prevention of government bodies involvement into corporate conflicts, protection of whistleblowers, rendering legal assistance on pro-bono basis, etc.

Nevertheless, such projects, along with implementation of the work plan should also be focused on evaluation of performance and effectiveness related to project activities. Monitoring of performance and evaluation could be provided not only with the help of third party evaluators from the European Union or an audit company, but also through interaction between monitoring mechanisms both of the Council of Europe and of the beneficiary. It would have positive effect on the achievement of specific results that can fundamentally change or improve existing approaches in law enforcement practice of the Russian Federation. Or vice versa, it would demonstrate inconsistency and non-expediency in the implementation of certain approaches developed by domestic and/or foreign experts.

Moreover, in my opinion, the direct financial participation by the Russian Federation in joint projects would be highly successful for the improvement of their implementation climate. It would allow the main beneficiary – the government body of the Russian Federation – not only take more active part in such projects, but also equally share responsibility for the fulfilment of tasks and objectives with international partner.

Though, it should be noted that joint projects in which the Russian counterpart acts as a beneficiary, make their positive contribution and provide a good platform for sharing experience.

Taking into account the best international anti-corruption practices, it is worth mentioning that one of the most important anti-corruption mechanisms is a preventive system.

The often quoted definition of corruption was given by Klitgaard, MacLean-Abaroa and Parris: “Corruption is a crime of calculation, not passion. People will tend to engage in corruption when the risks are low, the penalties mild and the rewards great”.[15] This statement could be described by the following formula: Corruption Risk = Monopoly + Discretionary Power – Responsibility.

To combat corruption and to reduce its scope, it is necessary first to determine existing forms of corruption and their intensity in different sectors, to define structural problems, to understand who benefits from corruption, to study a complex of its causes and to develop a long-term anti-corruption strategy. This kind of approach should allow both law-makers and law enforcement officials to have a clear understanding of possible ways of combating corruption infiltrating different life-sustaining activities.

In addition, we need a comprehensive anti-corruption approach, requiring integrated combination of a number of factors and elements. We also need a clear anti-corruption strategy, including development of legal instruments, institutional arrangements, investigative and prosecutorial machinery, public awareness, education, emerging role of civil society and mechanisms for protection of whistleblowers. Fight against corruption will be effective only upon streamlined activity and combination of all mentioned factors and strategies, and definitely in the presence of political will.

In my opinion, mass media, human rights activists and civil society could make a tremendous impact on fight against corruption. For example, in India a web-site “I paid a bribe” was created. According to information on the web-site, people have the possibility of reporting their bribe-related experience in the areas of education, medicine, court system, police, pension payments, power supply, building and others life-sustaining activities. This internet-based resource is extremely popular in India. 4,547,000 people visited it; 20,118 bribe reports were submitted.

Similar and like subsidiary mechanisms allow citizens to report different corruption practices they faced dealing with government institutions.

We cannot agree more with the statement of the Indian scientist C. Raj Kumar that the society free of corruption is a fundamental human right, as the right to life, dignity, equality and other human rights and freedoms significantly depend upon it. In other words, without this fundamental right other essential rights lose their meaning.[16] Without any doubt, corruption is a serious problem that undermines human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Human rights obligations are extended to all government branches – legislative, judiciary and executive, and to all state levels – federal, regional and local. The states are responsible for respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights.

The fact of corruption presence in the public sector inter alia gives evidence of the state’s failure to fulfil its responsibilities in the area of human rights.

Corruption has an adverse impact on civil and political rights as well as on economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, corrupt practices to a greater extent involve the most vulnerable social groups – financially disadvantaged, pensioners, children, women, minorities, migrants, disabled, prisoners, etc. Therefore, corruption is inconsistent with such values as human dignity, equality and justice.

In evidence of cause-and-effect relationship between corruption and human rights, we can provide the following examples.

A bribe received by a public officer for a driving license may lead to violation of sic non-derogable right as the right to life.

A bribe received by a judge leads to violation of the right to fair trial. Bribes received by teachers or doctors lead to violation of the right to education and health correspondingly.

When government officials waste budgetary funds allocated for education, culture, healthcare, housing, urban development and other essential life-sustaining activities, violation of economic, social and cultural rights can be observed.

When one businessman wishes to remove his business enemy by giving a bribe to an official in order to unlawfully initiate a criminal case, the rights to a fair trial, liberty and security, or even the right not to be subjected to torture may be violated.

There is no limit for that kind of examples due to the immense amount of corrupt practices and dishonest persons with discretionary powers in different areas of government regulation, on whom both individuals and legal entities are dependent.

In conclusion, it should be noted that there has been corruption and there will be corruption. Elimination of corruption as of a complex phenomenon demands the change of value system, moral and ethical codes of conduct starting from the highest levels of power.

It should not be forgotten that every person himself or herself is the strongest enemy of corruption.

The essential conditions for controlling corruption are honesty and responsibility as well as awareness of civil society, law enforcement, high level of social and political institutions’ development, transparency and freedom of information.

The main obstacle in the way to democracy and development of the economy is bad governance leading to corruption. And vice versa, good governance includes proper use of public funds for the public good and investment in human capital.

Taking into account that corruption leads to violation of human rights, the efficient instrument of combating corruption would be the fulfillment of human rights.

It is of particular interest to note that when we talk about violation of human rights then according to international human rights law it is attributed to the state (through its representatives). Similarly, crimes that include corruption element require direct involvement of the state representatives.

Therefore, we can see state officials standing behind both — violation of human rights as well as corruption-related offences.

Here is quite in place to remind a remark said by the German philosopher Hegel: “The state exists for human beings and not vice versa.” Following this often neglected postulate, the state (through its representatives) should make every effort for the creation of favorable conditions for the fulfillment of human rights obligations, including fight against corruption, which gets in the way of this mission.

[1] The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations,

[2] Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations,

[3] The Preamble of the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of 27 January 1999,

[4] The Preamble of the United Nations Convention against Corruption of 31 October 2003,

[5] The United Nations Convention against Corruption of 31 October 2003,

[6] The Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament “EU Anti-Corruption Report” of 3 February 2014, СОМ (201384), p. 3

[7] The Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament “EU Anti-Corruption Report” of 3 February 2014, СОМ (201384), p. 3

[8] The Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament “EU Anti-Corruption Report” of 3 February 2014, СОМ (201384), p. 6

[9] Identifying and Reducing Corruption in Public Procurement in the EU – development of a methodology to estimate the direct cost of corruption and other elements for an EU-evaluation mechanisms in the area of anti-corruption, of 30 July 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers and ECORYS

[10] The Council of Europe Department of Action against Economic Crime,

[11] The Group of States against Corruption,…CoE_en.asp


[13] Joint First and Second Evaluation Round, Addendum to the Compliance Report on the Russian Federation, adopted by GRECO at its 58 Plenary Meeting, 3−7 December 2012, Strasbourg,

[14], The budget of the Council of Europe for 2014 is € 402,694,300. The major contributors out of 48 Member States paying the same rate to the budget are France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation and United Kingdom, providing nearly 57% of the total.

[15] R. Klitgaard, Controlling corruption, University of California Press, Berkley, 1988

[16] Raj Kumar C., Corruption and Human Rights, India’s national Magazine, Vol. 19, 19, September 14-27, 2002