Call for a corruption-free Africa: A rights based approach

DuniaMekonnenTegegnAuthor: Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn
Human rights lawyer, Ethiopia

Corruption is a threat to human rights in that it erodes accountability and results in impunity. Given the interdependence of human rights, the impact of corruption on the whole spectrum of human rights; economic social and cultural rights as well as that of the civil and political rights is significant. It fundamentally distorts the machineries necessary for the realization of human rights namely good governance and rule of law.

Corruption undermines a government’s ability to deliver goods and services. It results in discriminations in the use and enjoyment of human rights. It further undermines the ability of individuals to access justice and corrode their role as active participants in decisions that affect them within the public service. Corruption has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups such as women, children and the poor as it decreases funds available for the provision of basic services like education, health and social services that these groups are mostly dependent on.

Corruption impairs the ability of governments to fulfill their obligations and ensure accountability in the implementation of human rights
Positioning corrupt behaviors as causes for human rights violation in essence calls for the incorporation of human rights based approach to the fight against corruption. It requires the application of human rights principles such as accountability, transparency and empowerment into strategies and programs that prevent and combat corruption. Though the effect of corruption is more adverse on developing countries, the problem is widespread, occurring both in developing and developed countries, at public and private spheres. For instance, in 2009 the head of the World Bank estimated that African countries lose 25% of their gross national product to corruption. The World Bank further indicated that corruption is the single greatest obstacle to reducing poverty in developing countries. Corruption has worsened the situation of many countries and has subjected many of them to a stagnant economy as it shifts the resources a country has into the personal pockets of individuals for their own benefits.

For too long rather than solving the problems together, anti-corruption and human rights activities have been undertaken in separate manners. However, it is the vulnerable and marginalized women, children and minority groups who often suffer corruption’s harshest consequences. Furthermore, in dealings with police, judges, hospitals, schools and other basic public services, poor citizens tend to suffer more violations than the rich and a larger share of their resources are taken away.

Corruption directly affects human rights by violating many human rights conventions, undermining basics principles such as non-discrimination that are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as subsequent international treaties. Corruption further deteriorates the shared values that the international community has; most importantly the protection and respect of human rights.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises has included corruption among the abuses of human rights committed by transnational corporations. In a similar manner, some scholars have argued for the recognition of a right to live in a corruption-free world indicating the fact that endemic corruption destroys the fundamental values of human dignity and political equality, making it impossible to guarantee the rights to life, personal dignity and equality, and many other rights.

Corruption thoroughly affects human rights through deteriorating institutions and by corroding public trust in government. Corruption impairs the ability of governments to fulfill their obligations and ensure accountability in the implementation of human rights. In a corrupted public service system, governments will also be hampered in in their obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights that require the delivery of services pertinent to the fulfillment of both Economic Social and Cultural rights and Civil and Political rights.

Corruption goes against basic rights such as the rights to health care, education and clean water. This is due to the fact that corruption results in the diversion of development funds into private pockets, which impedes access to these basic services by all, as well as the delivery of services of standard quality. Hence inequality, injustice and unfairness in the society perpetuates. Moreover, corruption includes the use of public resources for noticeable consumption by public officers, which has implications for the progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights since such acts divert funds from meeting population’s needs. Corruption also leads to violation of civil and political rights by causing discrimination in favor of the powerful and against the poor and the marginalized, thereby leading to impunity.

The right to freedom of expression, information, assembly and association are vital to efforts to combat corruption. Freedom of expression is threatened when critics are subjected to intimidation and harassment. Where governments permit information to flow freely, it should become easier to identify and denounce cases of corruption.

About the Author: Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn is a human rights lawyer from Ethiopia. She has been working as a Human Rights Officer at OHCHR EARO and as Program Officer on ending violence against Women at UN Women country office. Dunia has also worked with the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and UNICEF Ethiopia as a seconded staff. She has also been an organizing member of human rights moot court competitions in Ethiopia and has represented her country in the 14th African Human Rights Moot Court Competition in Pretoria. Dunia is a graduate of law from Bahirdar University and also hold a masters degree in human rights from Addis Ababa University College of Law and Governance with an advance certificate on humanitarian law and policy. Dunia has co-edited and published a book on “Unleashing African resilience: Pan African renaissance in the new Africa century” and “Security and empowerment: African women in the 21st century.”


One Comment on “Call for a corruption-free Africa: A rights based approach”

  1. […] Mekonnen Tegegn, Call for a corruption-free Africa: A rights based approach, […]


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