The Progressing Proposal for An International Anti-Corruption Court

IV. The Campaign to Create the IACC

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Mark L. Wolf, Richard J. Goldstone, and Robert I. Rotberg

Until recently, the most frequent criticism of the IACC has been that, no matter how compelling the concept, it is an ideal that is impossible to achieve.67 However, the rapidly growing support for the IACC is refuting, and muting, this contention.

The crucial necessity of countering corrupt, autocratic leaders has become widely recognized. In June 2021, the G7 Ministers released a statement asserting that “corruption is a pressing global challenge” and vowed to address it.68 That same month, President Joe Biden declared doing so to be a core U.S. national security priority.69 He then convened a December 2021 Summit for Democracy with combatting corruption as one of its three themes.70 In addition, previously powerful leaders have been swept out of office in elections in many countries, including Slovakia, Malaysia, Moldova, and Zambia, because combatting corruption is a high priority for their people.71

These factors are contributing to the accelerating progress of the proposal to create the IACC. In June 2021, Integrity Initiatives International, the catalyst for the creation of the IACC, released a declaration calling for the creation of the IACC signed by more than 125 world leaders, including six former Heads of State and two Nobel laureates, from forty countries representing six continents.72 The declaration has since been signed by more than 260 individuals from more than seventy-five countries, including forty-three former Heads of State or Government and thirty-two Nobel laureates.

In 2016, President Juan Manuel Santos, a Nobel laureate, made Colombia the first country to endorse the IACC. His successor reaffirmed and continued this commitment.73

In September 2021, the federal elections platforms of both the Canadian Liberal and Conservative parties called for establishing the IACC.74 Following the formation of the new Canadian government, in December 2021 its foreign minister was instructed to “[w]ork with international partners to help establish an International Anti-Corruption Court, to prevent corrupt officials and authoritarian governments from impeding development that should benefit their citizens.”75

In March 2022, the Dutch foreign minister made creating a coalition of countries to establish the IACC an element of the foreign policy of the Netherlands.76 The Dutch have since begun recruiting other countries to join them in establishing the IACC. For example, at a recent meeting of European Union foreign ministers, the Dutch foreign minister said, “corruption among public officials isn’t just a financial problem; it also undermines democracy and the rule of law in a country and exacerbates inequality among its people. . . . By establishing an [IACC] the Netherlands aims to strengthen the international legal order.”77

Canada, the Netherlands, and Ecuador are now collaborating to convene, in 2022, two conferences of high-level officials from a diverse group of countries to discuss gaps in the international framework for combatting corruption; possible means to address these gaps, particularly including the IACC; and a political strategy for, among other things, making the IACC a reality. This core group will likely soon be expanded to include additional countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Balkans, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. The prospects for advancing the creation of the IACC are promising in all of these areas.

In addition, the IACC is supported by many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) throughout the world. Significantly, young people courageously confronting kleptocrats in many countries—including Venezuela, Zambia, Lebanon, Malta, and Russia—are ardent advocates for the IACC.

Persuading the United Nations to take a leading role in creating the IACC may be difficult, because its policy and practice of operating by consensus means that countries ruled by kleptocrats, including some countries on the Security Council, in effect have veto power. However, precedent demonstrates that the IACC can be established by treaty independently of the United Nations if necessary.

For example, in 1992 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was launched by six NGOs, led by Jody Williams. The then-foreign minister of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy, convened a conference and partnered with Norway, Austria, South Africa, and other countries to advance the campaign. By 1997, a treaty had been signed by 122 nations, becoming binding law with unprecedented speed.78 Williams, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership of the ICBL, and Axworthy are now working to help create the IACC.79

As Williams explains, “It is possible to work outside of traditional diplomatic forums, practices, and methods and still achieve success multi-laterally.”80 Williams’s view has been validated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

ICAN was formed in Australia in 2007 to work for the adoption of a convention to eliminate nuclear weapons after decades of unsuccessful efforts to regulate them. Emulating the ICBL, ICAN involved 468 organizations in 101 countries, led by a few medium-sized nations, including Austria and Canada. In 2017, a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations by a vote of 122 to 1. While the treaty is not supported by any of the states that now have nuclear weapons, it reflects a significant evolution of international norms and is a meaningful milestone. Although viewed by many in 2007 as a quixotic quest, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.81

The developing campaign for the IACC has adopted a similar model. The international coordinating committee for the campaign, which was formed in 2021, is building a global coalition of civil society organizations to advocate for the IACC. In addition, it is working with countries, including the Netherlands and Canada, to initiate a diplomatic process to establish the court by treaty. There is, therefore, now an opportunity for civil society and national governments to work together to establish the IACC, which is urgently needed to fill a crucial gap in the international framework for combatting grand corruption and diminishing its devastating consequences.