As the world celebrates the International Anti-Corruption day on the 9th December and the International Human Rights day on the 10th December, it is important to share some reflections on how corruption affects human rights. According to SDG 16 dealing with cases of corruption has proved very costly globally. This is because it involves the use of public funds and hence leaving the government with less resources to meet its human rights obligations to deliver services to the people.
This article analyses some of the ways in which corruption results into human rights violation. This article will discuss some examples on how corruption relates to the violation of some human rights especially the civil and political rights, while the subsequent ones relate to economic, social and cultural rights.
The effects of corruption is usually visible regarding the economic, social and cultural rights, although this is not, in fact, always the case. This is because the Economic, social and cultural rights are perceived as requiring a greater investment of public resources compared to civil and political rights, which are typically perceived as merely requiring States to refrain from interfering with individual freedoms. However, the realization of all categories of human rights requires the allocation of public resources.
It is also clear that when a country is grappling with limited resources it may need more time to realize economic, social and cultural rights because the ICESCR allows for a “progressive realization” of economic, social and cultural rights. This means that while the country is required to take immediate measures to realize these rights, it may do so only with the available resources.
However, inadequate resources cannot justify postponement of measures to implement these rights. The state must demonstrate that they are making every effort to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, even when resources are scarce. For example, irrespective of the resources available to it, the State should, as a matter of priority, seek to ensure that everyone has access to, at the very least, minimum levels of rights, and target programmes to protect the poor, the marginalized and the disadvantaged.
The realization of civil and political rights also requires considerable resources. For example resources are needed to maintain judicial, law enforcement and prison services and to ensure free and fair elections. The realization of civil and political rights can, therefore, also suffer greatly when there is misuse or misallocation of public funds. In addition, as the article illustrates, civil and political rights can be adversely affected by corruption in several ways.
According to the ICCPR and the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, every individual has the right to be treated equally and without discrimination. The acts of corruption are discriminatory in certain situations. For example the right to be treated equally is violated when someone is requested to pay a bribe to obtain a public service. In this situation, those who were not asked for a bribe received better treatment, and the right to equality of the person who was asked to pay a bribe has been violated. The discriminatory outcomes of corrupt practices also commonly violate other human rights, such as the right to education, health and adequate housing.
The right to a fair trial as a fundamental human right is very essential for safeguarding the rule of law in Uganda. This right incorporates the principle of equality, which underpins the administration of justice. The right to a fair trial encompasses an extensive series of procedural rights, including an independent and impartial tribunal, equality of arms, access to a court, and the presumption of innocence. The right to a fair trial is closely related to the right to an effective remedy, because no remedy is effective without equality before the law and fair judicial procedures.
Corruption if not well addressed and dealt within the judicial sector can damage the right to a fair trial, as it is capable of eroding the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the judiciary. Corruption is a terrible vice that can result into the lack of independence of judges, prosecutors and lawyers and can directly harm the right to a fair trial. It limits the effective and efficient administration of justice as well as the credibility of the entire justice system.
The impact of corruption in the judiciary can stretch beyond the case management system, by undermining other rights, fostering impunity among corrupt actors, and diminishing trust in the justice system which in turn can lead to more corruption. One of the core functions of the justice system is to promote and protect the human rights of all individuals in society. If human rights have been violated, the justice system can play a critical role in identifying those violations and protecting individuals’ human rights. However, this can only be accomplished when the justice system functions properly and is transparent, accountable and free of corruption.
In societies that have high levels of corruption, a justice system that upholds the right to a fair trial may be critical for safeguarding the host of human rights that are adversely affected by corruption in society.
The hallmark of democracy in Uganda is demonstrated through Political participation. The right to political participation include the right to participate in public affairs and exercise political power, and formulate policy at all levels of the state as well stipulated by Article of the 1995 Constitution, the right to vote and be elected; and the right to equal access to public service positions.
Uganda as a State has the obligation to adopt positive measures to ensure the full, effective and equal enjoyment of these rights and to protect the related freedoms of expression, information, assembly, and association. This is because corruption has a detrimental effect on all aspects of political participation. For example, vote-buying is a violation of the right to vote, because it restricts the free choice of citizens and affects the electoral process by undermining its legitimacy.
The National Objectives and Directive principles of state policy provides for the right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the rights to “adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”. There is sufficient evidence about the impact of corruption on the right to food. Corruption can violate the right to food by diverting funds from social spending. The embezzlement of funds that are intended for food aid, for example, is a violation of the State’s obligation to provide food for those who do not have access through their own means. The right to food security is also threatened when food products of inadequate quality are on the market because of corrupt practices.
Corruption can also violate several aspects of the right to health when the embezzlement of funds intended for the health sector violates the right to health of the entire society. The right to health and its accessibility is violated when someone has to pay bribes to have access to health-care services, such as medicines, medical treatment. Corrupt practices can cause widespread violations of the right to health, such as when the pharmaceutical industry sells unsafe medicines.
Education as a right is a very essential human right in itself and a significant avenue of realizing other human rights. Education is crucial for a person’s self-fulfilment and the development of society as a whole, since it is a vehicle for empowering the disadvantaged and improving social and economic standards. Education must have a holistic approach that promotes human rights values and the preservation of multicultural diversity. The State therefore has an obligation to provide education that is available and has functioning educational institutions in sufficient numbers.
Corruption undermines access to education and the quality of educational services, limit the social and economic development of society as a whole, and especially of vulnerable and marginalized groups. Corruption also endangers the right to equal and free access to primary and secondary education when the payment of a bribe is required as a condition of admission or to receive books that are supposed to be free of charge.
It is therefore important that all Ugandans positively embrace the fight against corruption through attitudinal change and support the promotion and protection of human rights by recognizing one another’s humanity.
By Dr Patricia Achan- Okiria