“corruption” in Bangladesh


The term “corruption” comes from the Latin word corruptio which means “moral decay, wicked behavior, putridity or rottenness”[1]. In recent years, the subject of corruption has received considerable attention. Work on governance has brought it into the light and it is no longer taboo. Corruption is being addressed by financial institutions, government agencies, bilateral donors, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development professionals. Its causes have been measured empirically, as have its impacts on human development. Institutions and administrative procedures have been overhauled. Countries have negotiated and signed international anti-corruption conventions. Yet corruption clearly remains a challenge. Despite countless policy diagnoses, public campaigns to raise awareness, and institutional and legal reforms to improve public administration, research shows that it continues to flourish.

Indeed, opinion polls suggest that the public is more pessimistic than before about the likelihood of eliminating it[2]. Combating corruption requires strong collective efforts from different sectors in society acting in co-ordinate ways. The aim of this report is to encourage and assist individuals and institutions which work to promote and protect human rights to engage with corruption issues and collaborate more closely with anti-corruption organizations. It may also assist those who combat corruption to recognize the value of human rights to their work and the advantages of closer collaboration with human rights organizations. In addition, the report may help to raise awareness among key stakeholders and the public of the links between corruption and human rights, thereby diminishing public tolerance of corruption and strengthening public support for anticorruption measures. It suggests some additional tools that individuals can use to denounce corruption as well as to protect those who combat it[3].

What is corruption?

Corruption can be defined as “the misuse of entrusted power for personal benefit”. It can also be described as letting personal or family relationships influence economic decision making, be it by private economic agents or by government officials. Corruption is always kept secret and therefore individual behavior of corrupt agents is almost impossible to observe systematically in real life[4].

A corrupt principal creates allocation inefficiencies and cripples its credible commitment to effective policies, and opens the door to opportunism. Because corruption must be hidden from the public and is not enforced by courts it entails transaction costs, which are larger than those from legal exchange[5]. This suggests that corrupt contracts are primarily relational contracts where legal exchange serves as a basis for sealing and enforcing corrupt agreements.

Legal exchange not only provides for corrupt opportunities, but for the necessary enforcement mechanisms. Examples of such legal exchange are long-term business exchange, belonging to the same firm or political party or being embedded in social relationships. The latter may even comprise the engagement in charitable institutions. Reform should not only focus on limiting opportunities for corrupt behavior but also on impeding the enforcement of corrupt agreements[6].

What is governance?

The term governance is used to describe the way in which a country is governed. It has a much broader meaning than the term government. ‘Government’ describes the political, economic and administrative processes carried out by the political party that is in power. This can be called the government sector. The term ‘governance’ includes the government sector but adds two more sectors, business and civil society.

The business sector includes both large and small businesses while the civil society sector includes a range of organizations which people have created to meet a variety of needs. All three sectors contribute to the way in which society is governed.

What is good governance?

The concept of governance is widely understood as ‘the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).’ The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) define governance as “the manner in which public officials and institutions acquire and exercise authority to shape public policy and provide public goods and services[7].”

Good governance is achieved under a democratic political system in which the actions of all three sectors contribute to the good of society. It is most likely to occur when the government sector has high quality public sector institutions and when the nation has a strong civil society.

An institution is ‘transparent’ when its activities are open to public examination. This means that someone outside of the institution, who has no vested interest in hiding inefficient or corrupt practices, can be appointed to check administrative and financial procedures. This makes sure that the public interest is properly served[8].

‘Good governance’ is defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific as:

Participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society[9].


Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.

Rule of law

Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force[10].


Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations[11]. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media[12].


Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.

Consensus oriented

There are several actors and as many view points in a given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development.

Equity and inclusiveness

A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society. This requires all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their well being.

Effectiveness and efficiency

Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal. The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment. One Christian perspective on ethical governance argues that:

The needs of the poor are more important than the wants of the rich; the freedom of the dominated is more important than the liberty of the powerful, and; enabling marginalised groups to participate is more important than retaining a system which excludes them [13].


Accountability is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. Who is accountable to who varies depending on whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution. In general an organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.

What is the relationship between corruption and human rights?

This report explores the links between corruption and human rights on the assumption that, if corruption occurs where there is inclination and opportunity, a human rights approach may help to minimize opportunities for corrupt behavior and make it more likely that those who are corrupt are caught and appropriately sanctioned. A human rights approach also focuses attention on people who are particularly at risk, provides a gender perspective, and offers elements of guidance for the design and implementation of anti-corruption policies[14].

If corruption is shown to violate human rights, this will influence public attitudes.

Connecting acts of corruption to violations of human rights also creates new possibilities for action, especially if, as we will argue, acts of corruption can be challenged using the different national, regional and international mechanisms that exist to monitor compliance with human rights[15].

While corruption violates the rights of all those affected by it, it has a disproportionate impact on people that belong to groups that are exposed to particular risks (such as minorities, indigenous peoples, migrant workers, disabled people, those with HIV/AIDS, refugees, prisoners and those who are poor). It also disproportionately affects women and children.

Those who commit corrupt acts will attempt to protect themselves from detection and maintain their positions of power. In doing so, they are likely to further oppress people who are not in positions of power, including most members of the groups listed above. The latter tend both to be more exploited, and less able to defend themselves: in this sense, corruption reinforces their exclusion and the discrimination to which they are exposed. In some cases, it is their vulnerability that makes certain groups easy victims of corruption. For instance, corrupt officials may extract money from migrant workers who lack a residence permit by threatening them with deportation in the knowledge that they cannot complain. It seems that Roma people, when compared to other groups, are disproportionately asked to pay bribes when they seek access to health and education services[16].


Corruption impacts men and women differently and reinforces and perpetuates existing gender inequalities. Women’s lack of access to political and economic power excludes them from networks that permit access to decision-making bodies. Where institutions are controlled by men, women do not have enough power to challenge corruption. Corruption in the legislative and executive branches can allow discriminatory laws to stand, while corruption in the judicial branch can discriminate against women who do not have the means to pay bribes to gain access to the justice system. Women’s access to justice is compromised in other ways. Trafficking, for example, often involves the corruption of border officials, police and members of the judiciary. As illegal immigrants, often without proof of identification and subject to (sexual) violence, trafficked women are obviously hindered in seeking protection from courts.

Many women also have fewer opportunities than men to achieve an education or obtain land, credit and other productive assets. When they have access towork, they are often paid lower are financially dependent, cannot work or are poorer.


Corruption may also have a disproportionate impact on children. While children possess in general the same civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as adults, they also have certain rights specific to them. Corruption can violate many of the rights that children share with adults, including the right to life and the right to health. In addition, some rights, such as the right to education, are particularly important to children. Corrupt practices harm three other rights that are particularly relevant to children: a child’s right to be protected during adoption procedures; the right to protection from trafficking and sexual exploitation; and the right to be protected from child labour.

People living in poverty

Corruption has a severely detrimental impact on the lives of people living in poverty when compared with higher income groups. Corruption not only affects economic growth and discourages foreign investment, thereby indirectly affecting the poor, but reduces the net income of those living in poverty, distorts policies, programmes and strategies that aim to meet their basic needs, and diverts public resources from investments in infrastructure that are crucial elements of strategies to lift them out of poverty

Indigenous people and minorities

Indigenous people and minorities suffer particularly from corruption. They are often among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in society. Indigenous women are additionally exposed to risk.

Indigenous communities that are closely linked to land they live on collectively are especially vulnerable to corruption of infrastructure programmes that displace them, and smaller-scale corruption associated with land sales and registration.

Direct violations

Corruption may be linked directly to a violation when a corrupt act is deliberately used as a means to violate a right. For example, a bribe offered to a judge directly affects the independence and impartiality of that judge and hence violates the right to a fair trial. When an official has not deliberately caused the harm in question, due diligence becomes the test. Corruption may also directly violate a human right when a state (or somebody acting in an official capacity) acts or fails to act in a way that prevents individuals from having access to that right. To illustrate, when an individual must bribe a doctor to obtain medical treatment at a public hospital, or bribe a teacher at a public school to obtain a place for her child at school, corruption infringes the rights to health and education.

Indirect violations

In other situations, corruption will be an essential factor contributing to a chain of events that eventually leads to violation of a right. In this case the right is violated by an act that derives from a corrupt act and the act of corruption is a necessary condition for the violation. This situation will arise, for example, if public officials allow the illegal importation of toxic waste from other countries in return for a bribe, and that waste is placed in, or close to, a residential area. The rights to life and health of residents of that place would be violated, indirectly, as a result of the bribery. These rights are not directly violated by the bribe in this example, but the bribe was an essential factor without which the violation would not have occurred. Even without a direct connection, therefore, corruption may be an essential contributing factor in a chain of events that leads to a violation, and so may violate human rights indirectly.

In these cases too, corruption is an essential condition and in its absence the violation would not occur. Corruption may also be an indirect cause where corrupt authorities seek to prevent the exposure of corruption. When a whistleblower (someone investigating or reporting a corruption case) is silenced by harassment, threats or imprisonment, or killed, the rights to liberty, freedom of expression, life, and freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment may all be violated. In such a case, in addition to the original act of corruption that the whistleblower was trying to denounce, it is highly probable that the acts that subsequently infringed his or her rights would also have corruption as a cause (for example, corruption at the level of law enforcement).

Remote violations

Sometimes corruption will play a more remote role. When corruption during an electoral process raises concerns about the accuracy of the final result, social unrest and protests may occur and these may be repressed violently. In such a case, the right to political participation may be violated directly, and repression of the social protests may also cause serious violations of human rights (for example, the rights to life, prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and freedom of assembly). Nonetheless, the electoral corruption would not necessarily be the only or determining cause of such riots or their repression. Many other factors might contribute and, to that extent, the corruption has a more remote link to the violations in question.


This report has not asked human rights organizations to become anti-corruption

organizations; or anti-corruption organizations to convert to human rights organizations. It argues that human rights organizations will collide with, and will need to address the issue of corruption in the course of their work, because problems of corruption have human rights consequences; and that mainstreaming of human rights by the UN and many other institutions will mean that anti-corruption institutions will need (and want) to know how to apply human


My aim has been to provide some lights that will help to deal with the human suffering caused by corruption more effectively. This said, those who work to end corruption have created their own institutions, practices and laws – their own tradition – as human rights organisations have.


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[1] Milovanovic, 2001.

[2] Though institutions have used various methodologies to measure levels of corruption in different countries due to its covert nature, and the unwillingness of those engaged in corruption to discuss it objective documentation remains difficult to obtain. Most information relating to corruption is still therefore based on perceptions of corruption in a country or profession. While these perceptions are useful to researchers, activists and policy-makers, it should be understood that most of the information available on corruption remains subjective.

[3] Review Meeting on Corruption and Human Rights, July 28-29, 2007, Geneva, Prosecution of Corruption Cases and Respect of Human Rights, Paper Prepared for the International Council on Human Rights Policy, ¶ 1 (prepared by Carlos Castresana).

[4] Hindess and Larmour, ‘Transparency International and the Problem of Corruption’, http://apseg.anu.edu.au/pdf/plarmour/ ARC_project_plarmour.pdf, 2003.

[5] GTZ UNCAC Project, “Combating Corruption through Development Cooperation”, GTZ, Eschborn, Germany, February



[7] Development Committee, ‘Strengthening Bank Group Engagement on Governance and Anticorruption’, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, 8 September 2006, p. i.

[8] See Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Corruption Glossary available at: www.u4.no/document/faqs5.cfm#grandcorruption. The term “Grand Corruption” was first used by Sir George Moody-Stuart to make reference to the bribery of foreign public officials by international corporations. See, Moody-Stuart, 1997. The term later evolved to cover all corruption at the top levels of the public sphere, where policies and rules are formulated. It is usually (but not always) synonymous with political corruption.

[9] United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific http://www.unescap.org/huset/gg/governance.htm

[10] On political corruption see the comprehensive work of Heidenheimer et al., 2002.

[11] See www.transparency.org.

[12] Clinard and Yeager, 2005; Almond and Syfert, 1997, pp. 389-447.

[13] Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Common Wealth for the Common Good: A Statement on the Distribution of Wealth in Australia, Melbourne, Collins Dove, 1992.

[14] Corruption and Human Rights: Making the Connection

[15] Pranab Pardhan, Corruption and Development: A Review of the Issues, 35 J. ECON. LIT. 1320, 1328-29 (1997).

Perhaps South East Asia is an exception to this phenomenon since it has experienced enormous growth

notwithstanding the presence of corruption. On how South Korea dealt with corruption, see ALICE H. AMSDEN,


[16] For example, see the analysis of the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2006/67/Add.2, para. 47.