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Briefing on Corruption and Conflict and Arria-Formula meeting on Venezuela and Corruption

On Monday (10 September), the Security Council is scheduled to have a briefing under the agenda item “Maintenance of International Peace and Security” entitled “Corruption and Conflict”. It seems that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) advocated for the Council to take up this issue. The meeting constitutes one of the signature events of this month’s US Council presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres will brief. Additionally, John Prendergast, Founding Director of the Enough Project and co-founder of The Sentry will brief. A formal outcome is not anticipated at this point, but may be an option at a later stage.

The UN Convention against Corruption describes corruption as a threat to the stability of societies and as a transnational problem in need of international cooperation. The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, called the fight against corruption “a vital component of our collective efforts to strengthen peace and security” during a high-level debate at the UN in New York in May to mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the convention. The Secretary-General may give an overview of the UN’s activities related to corruption in his statement.

The Enough Project researches conflicts in African countries and advocates for peace and an end to mass atrocities. Connected to the Enough Project is The Sentry, an organisation researching financial networks profiting from and supporting armed conflict and atrocities with the ultimate aim of altering those systems, with a focus on countries in Africa.

This is the first time that a Council meeting considers corruption as a cross-cutting issue. Tackling corruption may factor into the broader aim of conflict prevention. Public anger at state structures undermined by corruption can lead to popular unrest. Terrorist groups often finance their activities through organised crime, in some cases made possible by corrupt state structures. Settings in which the Council might act on these issues could include sanctions regimes and resolutions mandating peacekeeping and special political missions. Another entry point could be to strengthen the involvement of civil society and use of its expertise, notably in connection with UN engagement in post-conflict peacebuilding, when corruption can render state structures dysfunctional.

On most occasions when the Council discusses thematic issues not formally on its agenda, some member states, in particular China and Russia but also several elected members, express the view that the Council’s taking on the topic encroaches on the authority of other UN organs. Considering that the focus of this meeting is unprecedented, similar points can be anticipated.

Members may give statements on different aspects of the problem of corruption, such as examples of good practices in combatting corruption, how development aid can best be targeted or how to incorporate this topic on the Council’s agenda. Upholding the rule of law and ensuring accountability for corruption-related crimes may be another point addressed by members. Members critical of addressing the issue may point out that corruption is largely an internal problem to be dealt with by the state concerned, and not a matter of international peace and security.

Considering the sensitivities surrounding thematic issues in general and corruption in particular, negotiations on an outcome may prove challenging.

In connection with the briefing, the US is also organising an open Arria-formula meeting entitled “Venezuela as Case Study of Corruption, Peace, and Security”. According to the concept note provided by the US, there will be two briefers. Mercedes de Freitas (founder and Executive Director of Transparencia Venezuela, the Venezuela chapter of Transparency International) will discuss the impact of corruption on the population, and challenges faced by civil society. Marshall Billingslea (Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing from the US Department of the Treasury) will present tools for member states to respond to corruption networks. The concept note warns that the situation in Venezuela continues to force people to flee the country and therefore constitutes a threat to regional stability. The US has imposed sanctions on individuals and entities that are part of or connected to the government of Venezuela, and names corruption in the country as a root cause of instability and humanitarian crisis.

The first time the Council discussed Venezuela was on 17 May 2017 when Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča briefed Council members in closed consultations under “any other business.” The briefing was requested by the US and focused on the political crisis in the country. On 13 November 2017, the US, together with Italy (a Council member at the time) organised an Arria-formula meeting on Venezuela addressing the political, economic and social situation, and its potential humanitarian impact on the region.

Several Council members, including members of the region, have on these occasions expressed concerns that meetings on Venezuela, which is not an item on the Council’s agenda, might be perceived as interfering in its domestic affairs. Similar points can be expected for Monday’s briefing, and members may attend at a lower level. Some countries are expected to address other points such as political, humanitarian and human rights in order to convey concern about the situation in Venezuela without necessarily focusing on corruption.

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