Note:  Professor Juliet Sorensen (Northwestern University School of Law) and Northwestern Law students Akane Tsuruta and Jessica Dwinell are attending the Fifth Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Panama City, Panama.  See here for a live feed of the States Parties’ discussions.

This first post regarding the proceedings is by Jessia Dwinell.

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For the next six days, the anti-corruption world will be centered in Panama City, Panama. Specifically, from November 24th to November 29th, 1,500 state party delegates representing approximately 130 nations and 450 representatives from civil society and intergovernmental organizations will participate in the Fifth Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Ninety-eight journalists are registered to cover the proceedings.

The UN General Assembly adopted the UNCAC in October 2003, an international anti-corruption instrument now ratified by 167 state parties. When first adopted, the UNCAC provided the first global framework aimed at harmonizing anti-corruption measures across borders. Acknowledging the importance of both preventive and punitive measures, the General Assembly included provisions requiring the criminalization of corruption in domestic laws, asset forfeiture, mutual legal assistance and the provision of technical assistance and training to personnel responsible for combating corruption. Participants in the Fifth CoSP will seek to improve the capacity and cooperation between States Parties, strengthen asset recovery mechanisms and review the current implementation of the UNCAC provisions.

In preparation for the Fifth CoSP’s official opening and the States Parties’ general remarks, members of the UNCAC Coalition, civil society organizations and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) met on Sunday, November 24 to discuss the role civil society will play at this year’s conference. Members from all of the organizations stressed the need for patience, cooperation between States Parties representatives and civil society and a coherent, focused agenda. For instance, John Sandage, Director of the Division for Treaty Affairs at the UNODC, stressed that combating corruption and strengthening the UNCAC is “a process, not a destination.” Vincent Lazatin, the UNCAC Coalition Chair, mirrored this sentiment when he acknowledged that “these things [changes] are glacial” and called for patience.

The UNODC, an organization that according to Mr. Sandage, “helps civil society participate in States who welcome their participation,” often works with Transparency International to organize civil society training sessions. In preparation for the week’s proceedings, Mirella Dummar-Frahi, the Civil Affairs Officer and Team Leader, Civil Society Team of the UNODC advised civil society representatives, “[i]n normal life, there is the right way and the wrong way, and then there is the UN way. And the UN way is to build consensus.” Mr. Lazatin further underscored that it is often difficult for civil society organizations to find the boundaries without overstepping them. Patience, once more, appeared to be the solution.

As the proceedings commence tomorrow, the States Parties will debate draft resolutions, seek stronger guidelines on what the UNCAC requires in the realm of criminalization and enforcement and push for mandatory access to information laws. Civil society members, likewise, will advance key initiatives—such as to increase transparency, protect whistleblowers and enact measures to better return fruits of corruption to the victims—all measures which fall within the framework and the text of the current Convention. Though only time will tell, hopefully the Fifth CoSP will lead to the productive consensus building that defines the “UN way.”