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The Link Between Corruption and Human Rights

The link between corruption and human rights is growing stronger.  International organizations have been arguing for years that the causal connections between corruption and human rights abuses are clear.

In developing nations and in particular failed states, corruption undermines human rights.  Some argue that the focus of anti-corruption efforts is to ensure that developing countries do not welcome terrorist organizations.  Both positions are correct — corruption undermines legislative, judicial and regulatory institutions, often leading to increased concentration of wealth.  The lack of opportunity can foster growth of terrorist ideologies and human rights abuses.  The control of power leads to consolidation of wealth, destruction of institutions and then threats to public safety.  

In the minds of many, however, corruption is often associated with developing countries and the impact on human rights seems to be more easily made when linking corruption and lack of economic development.  But they may be too narrow a view.  The fight against corruption is central to the struggle for human rights.  Why?

Corruption has always greased the wheels of exploitation and injustice.  In many ways, corruption is one of several abuses of power employed by political actors who also engage in ethnic cleansing, institutionalised racism, or other abuses designed to promote their continued control of the government. 

For many years, anti-corruption and human rights movements worked in parallel but rarely in coordination.  That is fast changing.  With greater cooperation among international organizations in fighting corruption, the framework for increased coordination in human rights issues is increasing — eventually many of these efforts will dovetail to increase synergies and international impact. 

Human rights advocates have been arguing that corruption comes at the expense of the vulnerable — women, children and minority groups — who are further marginalized and suffer more with weak institutions.  The rich benefit more from corruption and are less dependent on police, judges, hospitals, schools and other government institutions.  In Mexico, it is estimated that 25 percent of the income earned by poor households is lost to petty corruption.  The lower classes have little recourse against bribery.  In Bangladesh, surveys show that nearly one-third of girls trying to enroll in a government stipend scheme for extremely poor students had to pay a bribe, while half had to make a ‘payment’ before collecting their awarded scholarship.

Corruption can infect every aspect of life and, as such, contravene basic human rights.  Human rights conventions set out the legal obligations of a government, including ensuring that all people living in a country enjoy equality, a fair justice system, and access to goods and public services, among other rights. A government’s ability to respect, protect and fulfil these rights will ultimately be defined by the levels of corruption in those states.

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