As prepared.

Thank you, Richard.  I am honored to join such a distinguished group of speakers who represent the critical intersection of government, civil society, and multilateral organizations working side-by-side to combat the global scourge of corruption.  

On this weekend of anniversaries, we have an opportunity to reflect on the decades of work and collaboration that have brought us to this moment here in Atlanta.   Seventy-five years ago today, members of the United Nations convened in Paris to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This consequential declaration set an important precedent for the international community to come together and agree upon common commitments and obligations to address the shared challenges facing the world ravaged by war, aggression, and injustice. 

Fifty-five years later, members of the UN delivered on that legacy, making history again by adopting the first universal anti-corruption convention – the UN Convention against Corruption.   Just yesterday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the UNCAC entering into force.  

This document endures.  Its comprehensive set of standards, measures, and rules are even more relevant today as they were 20 years ago.  While the methods and means of corruption may change, as noted in the Convention “the international community is determined to prevent and control corruption…” and the “betrayal of the public trust will no longer be tolerated.”

Today’s Anti-Corruption Civil Society Forum is a prime example of that determination and a key reminder that governments cannot tackle this issue alone.   When President Biden released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption two years ago, the strategy underscored the importance of governments working with diverse partners, including civil society, to: (1) increase public awareness; (2); detect and expose corruption; and (3) pursue accountability. 

Let me share three ways we are breathing life into this strategy at home and abroad by working with civil society actors and organizations to achieve these three objectives.  

First, to increase public awareness of corruption’s corrosive effects on societies, the United States relies on inputs and advocacy from civil society.  Domestically, groups like FACT Coalition and Transparency International-USA worked tirelessly to push for the passage of the Corporate Transparency Act, helping address a major vulnerability in our own anti-corruption framework.  In just a few weeks, new U.S. beneficial ownership requirements will go into effect, increasing transparency around corporate ownership in the United States; this is in no small part because of civil society’s efforts. 

Internationally, we work with anti-corruption crusaders, who help to shine a light on and mitigate corruption’s impact on our lives.  In 2021, the State Department launched the Anti-Corruption Champions Award to recognize individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption. I am honored that several of this year’s awardees are in the audience today.  

Luis Arturo Torres Ramirez is one such champion, who for over 25 years, exposed dozens of cases of corrupt judges, politicians, and other public officials through his reporting in Ecuador.  He has investigated the exploitation of Ecuador’s natural resources, corruption in the judiciary, and official links to drug trafficking.  Another champion, Nikhil Dey, is also with us.  He has played a seminal role in creating and developing social movements in India aimed at transparency and accountability, public audits, and participatory democracy. 

A second way the U.S. government is elevating the fight is through steadfast advocacy and support for detecting and exposing corruption.  Last year, the Departments of State and Treasury partnered with a nonprofit organization for a “TechSprint,” a virtual competition on using technology to uncover corruption.   Additionally, USAID recently launched a first-of-its-kind membership-based, proactive legal support mechanism, Reporters Shield, to safeguard journalists from libel, defamation, and spurious lawsuits meant to thwart efforts to uncover and publicize corruption. Reporters Shield started accepting members in Summer 2023, and as of November 7, 141 applications were received from more than 45 countries. 

Third and finally, we are committed to holding corrupt actors to account.  To this end, the State Department has committed millions of dollars to support the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, known as GACC, a partnership between media and civil society that advocates to expose transnational corruption, lobbies for reforms, and promotes accountability through investigative journalism.  GACC benefits from the contributions of Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and, most recently, Slovakia.

This year, GACC published 33 investigations, prepared dozens of legal submissions, and pursued advocacy globally.  Entities exposed through GACC’s efforts now face sanctions, including several “financial facilitators” who knowingly helped sanctioned Russian oligarchs hide their assets.  GACC advocacy has also led to tangible reforms, including strengthening international norms at the Financial Action Task Force.  Overall, in just five years, this initiative has shown real world impact – the work of GACC recipients has facilitated criminal arrests, inspired legislative changes, and produced sanctions against corrupt officials.  

This is just a snapshot of how the U.S. government and civil society actors are partnering to detect, deter, and mitigate corruption.  An active, free civil society is essential, to ensure that governments uphold both their responsibilities to meet the needs of their citizens as well as their legal requirements to abide by international obligations and commitments.  Individuals and groups, like those of you here today, bring invaluable expertise and experience that serve to inform and improve policy decisions.  

While the challenges we face are daunting, I remain confident that governments, working alongside our partners in civil society and beyond, can meet the moment and improve lives for millions of people around the world.  So please, keep up the fight.  We need each of you in it, as the consequences of inaction are too great.  As President Biden has declared, “fighting corruption is not just good governance.  It is self-defense.  It is patriotism, and it’s essential to the preservation of our democracy and our future.”  Thank you, all. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future