Human Rights Defenders and Anti-Corruption campaigners should join hands

January 29, 2015

Jamil Nasir, a graduate of Columbia University, wrote on 10 December 2014 a short piece on the link between human rights and corruption: “The corruption link”. The author concludes that “Human rights defenders should not consider themselves just as activists; similarly anti-corruption champions should also not limit themselves like that. A bridge needs to be built between human rights and anti-corruption activists.” The article follows below in full:
The world celebrates ‘Anti-corruption Day’ and ‘Human Rights Day’ on December 9 and 10, respectively. Corruption and human rights are inextricably linked, but these linkages are not emphasised much in literature or discourse on corruption. The detrimental impact of corruption on economic growth and development is now well documented. It is a fact that corruption kills the incentive system, distorts technology choices, misallocates talent, promotes tax evasion and retards economic growth.And how does corruption impact human rights? First, it reduces the capacity of the state to protect, respect, and enforce its obligations with regard to the fundamental human rights enshrined in the social contract between the citizens and the state. For example, ‘access to justice’ and ‘security of life, property and honour’ are fundamental human rights. Can these rights be protected with a corruption-ridden judicial and police system? Our own current system is a pertinent example.Corruption in the judiciary and the police is not a secret in our country. When we talk of corruption in the judicial system, it does not mean prismatic decisions and judgements only. Granting adjournments to benefit one of the parties to a dispute is also corruption. When it comes to the police, corruption is not about flawed investigations but also non-submission of challans in the court on time. Consequently, the weaker party gets so disillusioned that it either does not pursue the case or enters into forced compromise.

Thus corruption affects fundamental rights as well as procedural rights like due process – the. right not to have undue delay in court proceedings and the right to a fair trial. Is it not corruption that has reduced the capacity of our state to enforce fundamental human rights? Have the court and police systems not become dysfunctional? Are these institutions not making the people poor rather than providing them quick justice?

This corruption lowers economic development and undermines poverty alleviation. The social contract obligates that the state should provide an environment where people can realise their full potential. Is such an environment possible without adequate resources with the state? Corruption reduces the level of revenues which consequently reduce the capacity of the state to fund basic social services. Again, Pakistan is a pertinent case. Due to corruption, tax evasion is rampant. Corruption also affects targeting of social programmes. If corrupt practices are pervasive, leakages in such programmes will usually be high. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the money allocated for various social spending and poverty alleviation programmes have not reached the intended targets. A substantial percentage of such funding was squandered away during the process of distribution. Further, targeting of the poor was riddled with nepotism and patronage.

Moreover, corruption enhances the operating costs of the government and reduces the resources available for social spending. The budget for the health and education sectors gets squeezed. It is an open secret now that the major chunk of the funds allocated for development of infrastructure like roads, schools and hospital buildings is eaten into by corruption in the form of commissions and kickbacks by the engineers, contractors and construction companies. And so corruption undermines development, deepens poverty and exacerbates other human rights violations.

Corruption can also violate human rights directly. If a corrupt judge takes a bribe to decide a case against an individual or a corrupt police officer takes a bribe not to properly investigate, that corruption directly violates human rights like the right to a fair trial. Corruption can manifest itself as the worst abuse of human dignity and rights.

One of the reports of Transparency International mentions a local public hospital in Zimbabwe whose nurses charged $5 every time the mother screamed while giving birth to a baby. This amount was charged as a penalty for raising alarm. Those women who were unable to pay the delivery fee were detained at the hospital until they had settled the debt. In this way, they were held hostage by the corruption prevalent in the hospital.

Corruption particularly targets the poor. For example, if a rickshaw driver or a street vendor pays a meagre amount of bribe (assume Rs100) to a policeman to avoid harassment, the impact on these poor chaps will be deep and severe since even Rs100 constitutes a major chunk of their daily income. It is not a big amount in absolute terms but it eats into their already tight budget. Compared with the daily income of the wage earners, the impact of this seemingly little amount can be well imagined on the household budget of the poor.

On the other hand, if a businessman pays – assume Rs100,000 – to a tax collector, he will get enormous personal benefit. But due to this collusion of the tax evader and the tax collector, millions of rupees will be dribbled through corruption. The taxes evaded due to this under the table deal, if properly collected, could be utilised for developing infrastructure, transfer payments or spent on poverty alleviation programmes.

This simple illustration shows that corruption adversely affects the poor. Second, it may also benefit the rich which is perhaps one explanation of the tolerance of the rich and the elite towards corruption in society. According to Professor Pranab Bardhan, corruption feeds on itself due to a variety of reasons. First, it is beneficial for the payer and the payee. Second, it is so entrenched that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Third, once corruption takes root in society, it is exceedingly difficult to eliminate.

It is time the discourse on corruption included the human rights perspective. A clear understanding between corruption and human rights can empower both human rights activists and those working against corruption. If linkages between corruption and rights become part of the narrative on corruption, attitudes will change. When people become more aware of the damage corruption causes to their fundamental rights, they are more likely to support campaigns against corruption. This new discourse can persuade key actors like judges, parliamentarians, lawyers, media and the public at large to take a strong stand against corruption. Connecting corruption to human rights violations means that acts of corruption can be challenged in a court of law as violation of fundamental human rights.

Weak human rights protection creates possibilities for corruption which also means that the promotion of human rights can be one of the tools against corruption. For example, promotion of the right to freedom of expression and information can go a long way in combating corruption in society. The right to information is critical in the fight against corruption.

Human rights defenders should not consider themselves just as activists; similarly anti-corruption champions should also not limit themselves like that. A bridge needs to be built between human rights and anti-corruption activists. This will be possible once the dots are connected and linkages between corruption and human rights are consciously explored for a joint struggle. Both human rights organisations and anti-corruption agencies should make a resolve to work together. The fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights are too important to be left to disjointed endeavours.”

The corruption link – Jamil Nasir.

One Response to “Human Rights Defenders and Anti-Corruption campaigners should join hands”


  1. […] see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/human-rights-defenders-and-anti-corruption-campaigners-shou… […]


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