Allan Rock on the creation of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC)

World Refugee & Migration Council Special Advisor Allan Rock spoke at the University of British Columbia Peter A. Allard School of Law’s event International Anti-Corruption Court: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? 

Supporting the creation of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) is one of the WRMC’s Groupe de travail canadien contre la grande corruption’s priorities. However, any proposal to change existing international legal architecture should be done so with humility. The task is massive and challenging, with complex issues to address.

Creating an IACC would be advantageous due to the scale of grand corruption. Grand corruption globally is enormous, and while difficult to estimate, the Global Financial Integrity thinktank notes that developing countries lose to corruption an amount ten-times greater than they receive in development assistance. Existing methods to tackle the scourge of grand corruption are not fit for purpose to stem this flow of corruption. 

Despite everything that is being done to confront it, grand corruption remains at the root of many problems around the world, including forced displacement. The close nexus between grand corruption and forced displacement causing refugees and internally displaced persons is very clear.

Corruption does not flourish due to the lack of laws or norms. 189 UN Member States have signed up to the UN Convention Against Corruption which requires signatory nations to enact domestic laws aimed at curtailing corruption. The problem is enforcement. The worst offenders are kleptocrats that not only control national politics but also the police, military, and entire aspects of the state’s enforcement mechanism. It is not in their interest to enforce the laws on the books.

The creation of the IACC does not start from zero. There exists a sturdy infrastructure already in place and growing.  The International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre has, since 2016, established mechanisms for states to cooperate in anti-corruption efforts. There is the Financial Actions Task Force that does the same, and since September 11, 2001, states around the world have put into place mechanisms to track and trace financial actions.

The advantage of the IACC is to lend a coherent and coordinated effort through a single court to enforce the laws in question – a global effort. It would have complimentary jurisdiction, meaning it would only act if the state impacted by grand corruption was unable or unwilling to address it. 

The IACC issues a measure of deterrence by holding the promise of holding kleptocrats to account. The IACC would seek to seize the assets stolen from the country and repurpose them to assist the population in which they were stolen from. Further, the IACC continues to gain support from the private sector due to its ability to level the playing field for business. Companies that cannot pay bribes in foreign jurisdictions are competing with companies that do pay such bribes – the IACC will address this issue.

Two of the main issues that arise when discussing the IACC are: jurisdiction over those committing grand corruption, and the costs of establishing and running such an organization.

Countries run by kleptocrats will not join the court. But kleptocrats do not keep their money at home. Instead they use foreign jurisdictions with stable banking systems such as those in Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States. If those countries where kleptocrats keep their money are members of the court, the IACC will have jurisdiction to enforce laws against kleptocrats.

The costs of establishing an IACC can be mitigated by learning lessons from the terribly expensive process that is the International Criminal Court (ICC). In fact, one of the greatest proponents of the IACC is the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Justice Richard Goldstone. 

Justice Goldstone has recently completed a 20-year review of the ICC which the IACC can learn from to be a lean, efficient, and effective organization and avoid the overspending that has occurred with the ICC. Further, given the scale of grand corruption, only a percentage of the financial benefits gained from preventing its occurrence will make any investment worthwhile.

Given the scale of grand corruption and its global nature, there needs to be a global response. Everything the international community is doing now is not succeeding. The status-quo is failing. The IACC is a tool that can truly tackle the scourge of grand corruption.

Image: Shutterstock/Motortion Films


  • Allan Rock

    Allan Rock is the president emeritus and was until 2022 a professor of law at the University of Ottawa. A former trial lawyer, he entered politics in 1993 and spent 10 years as a federal cabinet minister in the Justice, Health, Industry and Infrastructure portfolios. Allan was Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations between 2003 and 2006 and the president of the University of Ottawa from 2008 to 2016.