Remarks by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Murphy
As prepared for delivery by Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Murphy
to the Cross Dimensional Committee Meeting on Anti-Corruption
July 9, 2021
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the Committee Chairs and the Special Representative on Combating Corruption for organizing today’s event.
The challenge of fighting corruption cuts across the OSCE’s political-military, economic and environmental, and human dimensions. We must think holistically. Corruption undercuts essential institutions across all levels of government and negatively impacts the lives of all citizens. How can we build the capacity and strengthen the independence of law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary? How can we ensure good governance and accountability, transparent public procurement, and strong legal frameworks? How do we protect civil society organizations and individual whistle-blowers and journalists who expose corruption? How can we work across borders to elevate and reinforce global anticorruption norms and standards?
The OSCE can help make progress on all these issues. OSCE has experience in training law enforcement, helping states develop and implement more effective anti-corruption policies, and promoting the role of journalists and civil society. The United States firmly believes that the OSCE can and must do more. While there are many examples of how corruption cuts across the dimensions of the OSCE, I will focus on one: the challenge of combating conservation crimes such as trafficking in wildlife, timber, precious metals and stones, and other natural resources. This area is particularly relevant at a time when we as a community face dual climate and biodiversity crises.
The OSCE area faces multiple transnational challenges from criminals profiting from the illegal exploitation of our precious natural world. Illegal logging is a serious concern in the Carpathian Mountains and old-growth forests in the Western Balkans. In Central Asia, poaching and the illegal trade in snow leopards, hoofed mammals such as saiga antelope, and birds remains problematic. Illicit gold from Africa, South and Central America, and Southeast Asia makes its way to refineries in Europe and the United States with proceeds often going to criminal organizations. It is transparently false to argue that trafficking in wildlife and other natural resources is not a problem in this community. The United States and Europe are major destination and transit points for trafficked wildlife and wildlife products, and we need to work together to combat this destructive crime.
This organization is well-positioned to examine and address corruption that facilitates wildlife and timber trafficking and to disrupt the transnational criminal networks carrying out these illegal activities. Evidence shows that organized crime groups find wildlife, timber, and gold profitable and low risk compared to other commodities. We must increase the cost of doing business for these criminals and enforce accountability for government officials who participate in such illegal schemes.
We know corruption is one of the critical factors enabling wildlife and timber trafficking. It can take the form of illegal payments to forest patrol officers, park rangers, or customs officials to look the other way. It can involve bribery of police officers, prosecutors, or judges to avoid investigations and prosecutions, or to push for the lightest possible sentencing. At the larger institutional level, weak financial controls offer criminal organizations the opportunity to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities.
Furthermore, we know corruption flourishes in places without the independent media or vibrant civil society that can hold public officials accountable. We recognize that investigative journalists and activists who expose corruption often face harassment and harsh reprisals – even vicious physical attacks – from those in power who wish to maintain the corrupt status quo. Increasingly, independent media and civil society are faced with legal threats and actions that bleed their organizations of scant resources and intimidate other independent voices from going public with knowledge of corrupt acts. Governments that prevent people from speaking out, protesting peacefully, or associating with non-governmental organizations are the least able – and least willing – to tackle corruption.
At the OSCE, we need a cross-dimensional approach to fight corruption linked to conservation crimes. We won’t effectively address the problem if we stovepipe our efforts. And we certainly will not address the problem if we claim it resides somewhere else, outside the OSCE area.
Through OSCE committee meetings, work plans, and projects, we can consider ways to strengthen legal frameworks and implementation to ensure serious penalties for officials involved in corruption linked to wildlife crime. We should explore the use of technology and electronic systems to reduce the likelihood of illegal payments to public officials in exchange for fraudulent harvest, transport, or export permits. We should help with the development of robust control and audit mechanisms that can help detect and deter corrupt practices and track illicit finance. And we should encourage further cross-border cooperation among law enforcement agencies and customs and border officials to share information and best practices to combat corruption, transnational organized crime, money laundering, and other crimes associated with trafficking in wildlife and other natural resources.
At the same time, we must maintain our focus on supporting countries’ efforts to build democratic institutions with effective checks and balances, including independent oversight bodies and judiciaries. We should support the establishment of whistle-blower protection policies, so that journalists, concerned citizens, advocacy groups, and public officials can report suspected corruption without fear of retaliation. We should encourage trial monitoring, as well as training for prosecutors and court officials, in corruption cases. We must continue our robust support to independent media and civil society in order to provide greater public oversight and government accountability.
The United States sees tremendous opportunity through the work of the Transnational Threats Department, the OCEEA, ODIHR, the Special Representative for Combating Corruption, and OSCE Field Operations to synchronize efforts on this array of issues. We would also like to see the organization and participating States do more to address conservation crimes. We believe a Ministerial Decision in Stockholm on the environment must include commitments to strengthen environmental governance, as well as combat trafficking in wildlife, timber, and other natural resources. More broadly, we will continue to support and bring greater focus to the OSCE’s cross-dimensional efforts to promote good governance by strengthening legal frameworks, building the capacity of public officials, empowering civil society, and respecting the role of independent media.
The example of trafficking in wildlife and other natural resources is one of many substantive areas where our action would directly benefit security in the OSCE area. We appreciate today’s meeting as an opportunity to better coordinate efforts across the Organization and strongly urge further progress in our joint efforts to prevent and combat corruption.
Thank you, Madam Chair.