Representatives of more than 120 governments met in Merida, Mexico, today for the start of a three-day conference at which they will sign the first legally binding international agreement to tackle corruption, a convention approved by the United Nations General Assembly in October.
In a message to the conference, read by UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that, in a major breakthrough, the convention provides the means to recover assets obtained through corruption and, together with the convention on organized crime, it "gives us the tools to address crime and corruption on a global scale."
The Convention against Corruption binds ratifying countries to criminalize corrupt practices; develop institutions to prevent corrupt practices and prosecute offenders.
They also have to cooperate with other governments in recovering stolen assets and help one another to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence and reinforce integrity. Thirty ratifications are needed to bring the Convention into force.
"Let me stress, in particular, the provisions on asset recovery - the first of their kind - which require member states to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen," Mr. Annan said.
"This is a major breakthrough. It will help tackle a pressing problem for many developing countries, where corrupt elites have looted billions of dollars that are now desperately needed by new governments to redress the social and economic damage inflicted on their societies."
He was also greatly encouraged that the convention includes measures to promote the transparency and accountability of the international business community, he said.
The UN Global Compact of corporations observing designated corporate good governance issues, an organization that Mr. Annan launched, has already developed practical measures to fight corruption.
The Compact will host an international conference on Transparency and Anti-Corruption in Paris next month and a summit of Global Compact leaders in New York in June 2004, he said.
He noted that the UN itself has launched an Organizational Integrity Initiative to reinforce integrity as a core value "and to ensure that we practise what we preach."
"We have come a long way," Mr. Annan said. "Until the early 1990s corruption was hardly ever mentioned in official circles, although everybody knew it was there. It took great efforts and perseverance by many people to raise awareness of the corrosive effects of corruption on societies and put the fight against this plague on the global agenda."
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