Dear Corruption Watch,

A lot of organisations claim that corruption is a violation of human rights. Can you please explain this? It seems to me that it also undermines any right stipulated in the Bill of Rights because it effectively pulls the rug out from under public commitments and diverts resources. Do you agree?

Law-abider

Dear Law-abider,

Human rights and corruption are closely linked.  In many instances, corrupt acts lead to the infringement of human rights, and specifically the rights in our Bill of Rights. This is not to say, of course, that all acts of corruption imply a violation of rights. The principles of transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and meaningful participation in public life are core values that underlie the philosophy of human rights. Our Constitution is also based on the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.  These principles are undermined where corruption is allowed to take root within government.

Corruption may sometimes result in direct violations of human rights.  For example, if police officials demand bribes in return for properly fulfilling their duties or extort money from people to prevent abuse, the rights to freedom and security, or the rights of arrested people will be blatantly infringed.  Similarly, the right to administrative justice will be violated where officials fraudulently award tenders or fail to comply with their statutory obligations when carrying out their administrative functions.

Corruption in other contexts may not always directly breach human rights. It is the government’s responsibility to give effect to the rights in the Bill of Rights.  Very often corrupt acts prevent the government from effectively implementing its plans and policies for the full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Large-scale corruption damages the quality of public services, stalls delivery and produces inferior infrastructure. Corrupt procurement deals will lead to increased prices or non-delivery of essential resources or services

One of the most striking ways that corruption prevents the full realisation of rights is through the misdirection of government funds.  Many forms of corruption divert public resources away from the public and into private hands.  Within the government budgets each year, many billions of Rands are written off as unauthorised, irregular or wasteful expenditure.  This includes money lost directly through theft and corruption, but also money wasted on addressing the consequences of corrupt acts through legal fees, temporary supplies and having to repeat tender processes. 

The misdirection of funds can affect rights in many different spheres.  The principal of a school may steal money set aside for textbooks infringing the rights of children to basic education. In a hospital which is badly managed due to irregular tenders the rights to dignity may be undermined if patients do not have access to food, water or essential medicines.

On a day-to-day level corruption also impacts the rights of people by imposing additional costs for services. The effect is felt by all South Africans but the rights of the vulnerable are disproportionately affected.  People who are entitled to benefits are excluded because they cannot afford to make corrupt payments to officials nor do they have the resources to challenge the corrupt behaviour or system.  Each act of corruption also undermines the system as a whole.

Human rights can also be used in the fight against corruption and our Constitution is a powerful tool for rooting out corruption in the public sphere.  A culture of respect for human rights works to minimise corruption.  Rights such as the right to freedom of expression and assembly, the right to information, and the right to administrative justice assist us in exposing and punishing acts of corruption and making our voices heard.

Dear Corruption Watch,

A lot of organisations claim that corruption is a violation of human rights. Can you please explain this? It seems to me that it also undermines any right stipulated in the Bill of Rights because it effectively pulls the rug out from under public commitments and diverts resources. Do you agree?

Law-abider

Dear Law-abider,

Human rights and corruption are closely linked.  In many instances, corrupt acts lead to the infringement of human rights, and specifically the rights in our Bill of Rights. This is not to say, of course, that all acts of corruption imply a violation of rights. The principles of transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and meaningful participation in public life are core values that underlie the philosophy of human rights. Our Constitution is also based on the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.  These principles are undermined where corruption is allowed to take root within government.

Corruption may sometimes result in direct violations of human rights.  For example, if police officials demand bribes in return for properly fulfilling their duties or extort money from people to prevent abuse, the rights to freedom and security, or the rights of arrested people will be blatantly infringed.  Similarly, the right to administrative justice will be violated where officials fraudulently award tenders or fail to comply with their statutory obligations when carrying out their administrative functions.

Corruption in other contexts may not always directly breach human rights. It is the government’s responsibility to give effect to the rights in the Bill of Rights.  Very often corrupt acts prevent the government from effectively implementing its plans and policies for the full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Large-scale corruption damages the quality of public services, stalls delivery and produces inferior infrastructure. Corrupt procurement deals will lead to increased prices or non-delivery of essential resources or services

One of the most striking ways that corruption prevents the full realisation of rights is through the misdirection of government funds.  Many forms of corruption divert public resources away from the public and into private hands.  Within the government budgets each year, many billions of Rands are written off as unauthorised, irregular or wasteful expenditure.  This includes money lost directly through theft and corruption, but also money wasted on addressing the consequences of corrupt acts through legal fees, temporary supplies and having to repeat tender processes. 

The misdirection of funds can affect rights in many different spheres.  The principal of a school may steal money set aside for textbooks infringing the rights of children to basic education. In a hospital which is badly managed due to irregular tenders the rights to dignity may be undermined if patients do not have access to food, water or essential medicines.

On a day-to-day level corruption also impacts the rights of people by imposing additional costs for services. The effect is felt by all South Africans but the rights of the vulnerable are disproportionately affected.  People who are entitled to benefits are excluded because they cannot afford to make corrupt payments to officials nor do they have the resources to challenge the corrupt behaviour or system.  Each act of corruption also undermines the system as a whole.

Human rights can also be used in the fight against corruption and our Constitution is a powerful tool for rooting out corruption in the public sphere.  A culture of respect for human rights works to minimise corruption.  Rights such as the right to freedom of expression and assembly, the right to information, and the right to administrative justice assist us in exposing and punishing acts of corruption and making our voices heard.

Excerpt
A lot of organisations claim that corruption is a violation of human rights. Can you please explain this? It seems to me that it also undermines any right stipulated in the Bill of Rights because it effectively pulls the rug out from under public commitments and diverts resources. Do you agree?