Human Rights Index #38: Corruption

TIR staff

The Human Rights Index is prepared three times a year by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. The Iowa Review is proud to feature the Index on its web site, to suggest the global political and socioeconomic context within which we read and write.

Human Rights Index #38

Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

Corruption, says Transparency International (global society’s leading anti-corruption watchdog), “destroys the fundamental values of human dignity and political equality, making it impossible to guarantee the rights to life, personal dignity and equality, and many other rights.” Constituting the abuse by corporate and political officials of positions of trust for dishonest gain, corruption—typically deemed criminal—undermines most, if not all, of the rights proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which comprise what has come to be called the International Bill of Human Rights. In particular, corruption undermines the principles of equality and nondiscrimination, the widely recognized leitmotifs that run through all of human rights law. Although corruption affects every level of society, it is, however, the poor and disenfranchised who usually bear the greatest cost—often with their lives—of elitist manipulations of standards put in place to protect the vulnerable. Where bribery and like practices are routine, those with limited means and influence inevitably bear the burden of diminished, if not wholly unattainable, social services. The 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption, the first legally binding anti-corruption instrument globally, is promising, especially when cooperatively linked to regional compacts of like intent in Africa, the Americas, and Europe.  But its full implementation presents major challenges for cultures and societies where bribery, money laundering, looting, drug and human trafficking, election fraud, and other such evils constitute a way of life (Transparency International 2009).

6 — Number of U.S.-based companies considered to be among the top ten most corrupt in the world: Monsanto, Halliburton, Chevron, Freeport-McMoRan, Phillip Morris, and Occidental Petroleum—followed by Ryanair (Ireland), Syngenta (Switzerland), Grupo Mexico (Mexico), and Total (France) (Action for Our Planet 2010).

10 — Estimated percentage of Chinese government spending, contracts, and transactions used as kickbacks and bribes, or simply stolen, as of 2007, reportedly due to insufficient economic reforms, lax enforcement efforts, and Communist Party reluctance to adopt political reforms, thereby jeopardizing financial stability as well as causing economic losses (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2007).

25 — Estimated percentage of worldwide public procurement spending in the health sector (up to US$50 billion annually) that is consumed by fraud, bribery, and other corruption practices, with impacts on patient suffering, health outcomes, and mortality rates (World Health Organization 2006, 2010, 2013).

35 — Number of former Atlanta public school administrators and teachers indicted in 2013 for charges ranging from racketeering to theft in a systematic cheating scandal involving the manipulation of standardized test scores to increase federal funding and teacher bonuses, among them the former superintendent who earned more than US$500,000 for high test scores (CNN 2013, New York Times 2013).

60 — Percent of adults surveyed in Canada and the United States in 2012 who believed that business corruption is widespread in their countries—a belief shared widely throughout the world, with a general trend of higher rates of said belief in countries where GDP per capita is lower than in Canada and the U.S. (Gallup Poll 2012). 

83 — Percent of nurses in Costa Rica—and 71% of doctors—who in 2001 reported equipment and materials stolen from their hospital; two-thirds of hospital personnel surveyed in Venezuela similarly reported theft of medical supplies, and one study in Uganda found that the greatest single source of income for health care personnel was from the resale of drugs (United Nations Development Programme 2011). 

131 — Number of countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index that score below five, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean), indicating widespread belief that the public sector is corrupt and highlighting the need for governments to restore trust through transparency and accountability measures (Transparency International 2010). 

3,000 — Number of fake civil servants in oil-rich Gabon as of September 2013, according to a corruption investigation into a “mafia-like network” of persons receiving monthly salaries despite holding no official positions (The Guardian 2013).

6,000 — U.S. Dollars (or more, up to $8,000) paid by aspiring U.S. parents to “child finders” in Guatemala for healthy infants “relinquished” to a private attorney by poor families in exchange for $300 to several thousand dollars per child and the attorney’s approval of the transnational adoption without judicial or state service agency review—such “relinquishments” constituting over 98% of U.S.  adoptions from Guatemala where GDP per capita income approximates only $4,700 annually (Foreign Policy 2008).

15,530 — Average amount of Serbian Dinars (approximately US$190) paid per bribe in Serbia approximately every ten weeks (more than one-third the average Serbian monthly salary), mostly to private persons, but more than 40 percent in response to direct and indirect requests by public officials such as doctors (55%), nurses (26%), and police officers (39%) in exchange for expedited procedures or better treatment—leading most Serbs to rank corruption as the most important problem facing their country after unemployment and low living standards (UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2011). 

38,000 — Estimated number of people involved with organized crime in the United Kingdom, costing the national economy between US$32.5 and US$49 billion annually (Transparency International UK, 2011). 

100,000 — Average amount of Kenyan Shillings (approximately US$1,161) paid in bribes to Kenyan police by importers and exporters per shipment, plus an additional bribe payment per shipment of 400,000 Kenyan Shillings (approximately US$4,552) to Kenyan customs and port officials (AllAfrica, 2013; Havoscope 2013).

290,000 — Number of bribe offers of gifts and money put to Iraqi public sector civil servants by Iraqi citizens for expedited and improved services during a 12-month period preceding a 2011 UN survey of Iraqi corruption (UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013).

400,370 — Average amount of Vietnamese Dong (approximately US$20) paid in bribes to police by 64% of the urban Vietnamese population as of 2013, notwithstanding an average salary of only 3.84 million Dong per month (approximately US$185) (Transparency International 2013). 

800,000 — Approximate U.S. Dollar value of assets seized by Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission in 2009 (The Economist 2009). 

27,000,000 — Number of households in India (nearly 50% of a 60 million total) that do not qualify for services designated for families “below the poverty line” (BPL) but that, through bribery, nonetheless obtain special cards allowing them access to such services—as in fact more than one-third of BPL households must do even when legitimately registered (Transparency International 2010). 

12,000,000,000 — The projected additional annual U.S. Dollar amount needed to meet the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goal of building infrastructure for safe drinking water and sanitation worldwide—an estimated 20-40% increase on what the infrastructure would otherwise cost absent corruption (United Nations Development Programme 2011). 

640,000,000,000 — The total estimated value, in U.S. Dollars, of illicit financial flows from India to foreign jurisdictions—accounting for roughly 72% of India’s underground economy and 50% of its overall GDP in 2008 (Global Financial Integrity, 2010). 

1,260,000,000,000 — The annual U.S. Dollar cost to developing countries of illicit flows of money attributable to corruption in the form of bribery, theft, and tax evasion—a sum (equivalent to the economies of Belgium, South Africa, and Switzerland combined) that could otherwise lift the world’s 1.4 billion people currently living on less than US$1.25 a day above that level for at least six years (Transparency International, 2011). 


*Copyright © 2013 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Chelsea Moore, a 2013 graduate of the UI College of Law, Damian Bakula, Lisa Castillo, Benjamin Clough, Joshua Despain, Ma Jin, and Isaac Smith, each currently students at the UI College of Law. For additional facts concerning corruption and human rights and further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site: