This week, United States Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Jim McGovern introduced a resolution to the US House of Representatives to challenge corruption at the highest levels around the world: an International Anti-Corruption Court. This novel idea, first proposed by Judge Mark Wolf in 2012, is worth considering given the desperate need to develop new mechanisms to address corruption’s severe, transnational impacts on human rights and the enduring challenge of holding kleptocrats accountable for their crimes.
Corruption can ravage societies and be stubbornly difficult to uproot. Allowed to fester, corruption breeds poverty, violence, and instability that can spread well past a country’s borders. The World Economic Forum estimates that 5 percent of the world’s GDP is lost to corruption, and the International Monetary Fund blames it for US$1 trillion in lost tax revenue.
And corruption can rob people of their rights. It can lead to failing healthcare and education systems, lack of access to clean water – all problems that force countless people to leave their homes and countries in pursuit of better lives. It can also corrode government itself, as corrupt officials often shield themselves from accountability by hijacking the judiciary and abusively silencing critics.
High-level corruption can cross borders. As the “Luanda Leaks” recently exposed, it often implicates a dizzying network of far-flung companies, well-connected individuals, and countries – from foreign companies greasing palms for lucrative contracts to accounting firms scrubbing books and legal systems that allow corrupt officials to launder their dirty money.
Time will tell whether an international anti-corruption court is the right tool to take on these international networks and deliver justice to corruption’s victims. But for now, it’s a discussion worth having.