The Global Forum for Asset Recovery, due to take place in December 2017 in Washington D.C., is set to be the first globally focussed intergovernmental forum on stolen asset recovery and is the result of a pledge made at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London. While billed as a global summit, it will focus on the asset recovery process in four countries: Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine.
The idea behind the summit is to bring a mix of policy officials and persons involved in the investigation and returns process together and have them discuss both the steps needed to recover the assets to those four countries and to discuss overall policy changes that could have an effect on asset recovery worldwide.
Why hasn't this happened before?
In short, it has. After the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, an Arab Forum on Asset Recovery was set up to bring together post-revolution governments with governments of countries that had frozen the assets of former leaders. This took place four times, with the last happening in Tunisia in 2015. After the Ukranian revolution, a Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery was also held in 2014. The aim of these forums was to make progress in the case and discuss general policy issues hampering asset recovery. For some, however, they did not manage to achieve the progress expected in terms of moving cases forward and returning stolen money to the countries involved.
What can we expect from the Global Forum?
For now, it’s still unclear. The regional forums contained both technical sessions and discussions on some of the big topics around the theft of public money and asset recovery, in many cases setting the agenda for policy reform at the national level.
What is the role of civil society in the Global Forum?
This is also still unclear. As part of the UNCAC Coalition Working Group on Accountable Asset Recovery, we’re working to ensure that civil society can meaningfully participate in the Global Forum and have the sent the following principles to organisers:
Civil society should be included in meetings in the run up to and planning for the Global Forum
For civil society to be truly engaged as a partner in asset recovery, space should be provided in advance for CSOs and government officials to discuss the format for the GFAR and the commitments national governments will make. The GFAR should also not be seen as an exception and civil society representatives should be included in other asset recovery meetings at the international and regional levels. Additionally, governments participating in GFAR should be encouraged hold consultations with civil society ahead of the meeting.
Participation of civil society in all plenum sessions with time for civil society to raise questions and make interventions in each session
Civil society participation at some Asset Recovery forums has been limited to a single joint CSO-Government session and attendance at the closing, with no chance to ask questions. Meaningful participation of civil society must be broader than this to ensure that real input can be provided.
A clear and public CSO accreditation process
Broad civil society involvement is essential. This should include civil society representatives from each of the key asset returning and asset receiving countries. There should be consultation with civil society over who should be invited or an open registration process so as to ensure broad representation.
Provision for a CSO parallel session as part of the Global Forum, for civil society to discuss current issues, ongoing cases and set recommendations for global reform to the full forum
At AFAR III, civil society were provided free of charge with a room for parallel CSO discussions. We do not want this to replace meaningful participation at the Global Forum, but there is also need for CSO-CSO discussions on current issues and cases when coming together and would be appreciative if the organisers could facilitate this
Governments should organise post-GFAR meetings with civil society to discuss progress in implementing its outcomes and in ongoing cases
Regular meetings between civil society and officials on progress in asset recovery have been successful and can lead to better government-CSO cooperation and results in asset recovery. The GFAR should be seen as an opportunity to kick-off closer collaboration on asset recovery with civil society through establishing regular communication channels at international, regional and national levels.