03. December 2021

Anti-corruption prosecutors under attack: a CoSP special event now open to all

Anti-corruption prosecutors under attack - side event

Anti-corruption prosecutors are under attack everywhere. They are threatened, exposed to undue influence or hindered by abusive defence strategies.

At a special event at the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a panel of international experts will discuss measures that different stakeholders must take to protect prosecutors, and by extension protect the Convention.

The event, Anti-corruption prosecutors under attack, was organised by the Basel Institute on Governance and Norway on behalf of the Corruption Hunter Network. Due to recent travel restrictions, the special event was held virtually and was open to all.

Video and key takeaways

The event explores how lawfare – law used as a weapon – is targeting anti-corruption prosecutors and undermining their vital role in the fight against corruption.

The panel gave examples of how defence lawyers use strategies like bribery, intimidation and filing baseless claims to distract and exhaust prosecutors. Prosecutors have even been driven into exile.

It is bad enough that these dirty tricks delay, derail or otherwise manipulate criminal proceedings in corruption trials. In some cases they have weakened entire criminal justice systems, undermining democracy and the rule of law.

In this lawfare, there is a huge "inequality of arms" between the lawyers of rich defendants (rich because they have stolen) and under-resourced, over-stretched public prosecution services. And while we give defendants due process, there appear to be no effective legal or other means to protect investigators and prosecutors – including physically.

The Corruption Hunter Network, International Association of Prosecutors and others are at the forefront of efforts to protect and support prosecutors from attack. But more protection – including domestic laws and regional or international redress mechanisms – is urgently needed.

Speaker line-up and registration

Gretta Fenner, Managing Director of the Basel Institute on Governance, moderated a panel of experts from across the globe:

  • Gary Balch, General Counsel, International Association of Prosecutors
  • Greysa Barrientos Núñez, Senior Public Prosecutor, Costa Rica
  • Hermione Cronje, Head, Investigating Directorate, National Prosecuting Authority, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Simon Taylor, Director and Co-Founder, Global Witness

Norwegian State Secretary Astrid Bergmål of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security made opening remarks.

Why is this important?

Anti-corruption prosecutors are increasingly under attack in a large number and wide variety of countries. Examples include:

  • Prosecutors are directly or indirectly threatened.
  • Powerful politicians and businessmen try to exert undue influence on them for political or economic considerations.
  • Defence lawyers seek to hinder the due and efficient course of justice with questionable legal tactics, for example the infamous Stalingrad tactic. 

This situation poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of anti-corruption instruments such as UNCAC, and global efforts to reduce and eradicate corruption.

Prosecutors play a key role in ensuring that anti-corruption laws can unfold their full potential as a deterrent and a sanction for corruption. Their abuse severely undermines the ability of States Parties to the UNCAC to effectively comply with their international obligations. This includes Article 30 UNCAC on prosecution, adjudication and sanctions, as well as the 2021 UNGASS political declaration.

Ultimately, attacks on the independence of anti-corruption prosecutors, and their ability to do their jobs professionally, are a direct attack on the livelihood and security of citizens who suffer from corruption on a daily basis.  

By hearing first-hand accounts of prosecutors, the session aims to raise awareness of this serious threat to the effectiveness of UNCAC. It seeks to mobilise ideas, resources and willingness to protect prosecutors better and stop this attack on the fight against corruption, the rule of law and UNCAC. 

Watch the event on YouTube or download the audio file.

See all CoSP 9 special events organised or supported by the Basel Institute on Governance