Skip to main

Author: barneyc

Integrity is the cornerstone of peace and security, writes Yi Kang Choo. Amid the delicate security challenges currently facing Taiwan, we visited Taipei to share a roadmap for upholding integrity in military operations and procurement.

Hailed as the ‘integrity experts by Taiwanese media, a Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) delegation led by Head of Advocacy Ara Marcen Naval was recently invited to deliver the keynote speech at the 2023 International Military Integrity Academic Forum in Taiwan. A packed week in Taipei, the capital, saw the team encourage and support countries in the Asia Pacific region to strategically address corruption risks in their national defence and security sectors.

Above: Leading the TI-DS delegation is Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy (left centre), along with Najla Dowson-Zeidan, Advocacy & Engagement Manager (3rd from the left), Yi Kang Choo, Programme Officer (1st from the left), and Prof. Byung-Ook Choi, Transparency International South Korea (4th from the left).

Corruption represents a critical national security threat in this geo-politically sensitive region

The audience included directors from the Ministry of National Defence Procurement Office, Department of Resource Planning, Division of Defence Strategy and Resources, as well as the Ministry of Justice and the Agency Against Corruption. Companies within the defence industry were invited on the second day of the Forum.

Above: Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy of TI-DS delivering keynote speech to attendees of the forum

Our delegation was hosted by Po Horng-Huei, Vice Minister of Defence (Policy) of Taiwan. We were joined by the Integrity Defence Committee in Transparency International Korea and members of Transparency International Taiwan.

Regional trends and corruption risks

As shown in our GDI index, while Taiwan generally scores highly on institutional resilience to corruption in defence, key defence sector corruption risks in Taiwan and across the Asia Pacific region reside within military operations. Corruption in operations undermines the power of deterrence.

When defence institutions lack integrity, deterrence strategies lose credibility. When neighbouring countries perceive a nation’s military as corrupt or compromised, they might view deterrence signals as less credible, potentially emboldening them to take more aggressive actions. Given Taiwan’s security ties to the stability of the region, any perception of corruption within Taiwan’s defence sector could potentially be exploited by adversaries seeking to undermine the credibility of its defence and weaken Taiwan’s position in the region. Moreover, such perception of corruption could incentivise aggressive behaviour by others, potentially leading to territorial expansion or military provocations, with the potential to destabilise the entire region.

Defence offsets: the mutual responsibility of defence companies and governments to operate with integrity

Countries across the world are developing and implementing new policies and strategies to strengthen their national defence manufacturing capabilities in response to elevated geo-political conflict, resource competition, and changing alliances.

Rather than focusing on boosting their defence manufacturing through direct grants and contracts with local defence companies, many countries are pursuing defence offsets – a form of industrial cooperation which involves foreign defence company investments in local defence or other economic sectors in exchange for securing arms deals with buying governments. The total value of defence offsets in Asia is expected to reach US$88 billion by 2025.

Countries in Asia and Oceania, both with developed and underdeveloped defence industries, are adopting defence offsets for various purposes. For example, Taiwan seeks to introduce high-tech industries, encouraging foreign investment, promoting exports, and improving industrial structure. Moreover, the facilitating role of industrial cooperation to the remarkable success in the semiconductor industry is widely acknowledged among policy makers in Taiwan.

However, this trend is not without its corruption risks.

Former government officials from across the region have highlighted “how offsets are susceptible to corruption within a sector where bribes can represent nearly twice the contract value of procurements in any other sector.” In India, the government has been investigating at least three corruption cases.

Some defence industry representatives have even cancelled contracts due to corruption concerns in offset related transactions. This form of corruption has hurt countries’ abilities to perform critical military missions, slowed growth in local defence industries, and eroded trust in government integrity.

Against this backdrop, the Transparency International Defence and Security delegation urged companies to publicly acknowledge the corruption risks associated with offset contracting and ensure that all offset partners and projects are subject to enhanced due diligence procedures. Defence companies should be transparent about any involvement in offset projects worldwide. Moreover, government officials and departments dealing with offset projects should enhance their oversight of key risk areas, including the use of wide-ranging multipliers to assess the value of proposed or completed offset projects, and the ability for defence companies to provide cash payments or working capital to any type of local company.


Above: Prof. Byung-Ook Choi, a member of the Integrity Defence Committee in Transparency International Korea speaking on stage, sharing his concerns and recommendations on offset policies to reduce corruption risks.

Another key area of risk within the region is corruption in the arms trade and defence procurement.

Global military expenditure in 2022 was $2.2 trillion – 3.7 per cent more than the previous year. China’s military spending rose last year for the 28th consecutive year, to reach $292 billion. Military spending in Taiwan is also rising, driven by concerns about regional security.

These increases in spending on defence, alongside the scale of corruption risk in the defence sectors of arms exporting and importing countries, brings increased risk of distorted defence spending priorities and military acquisitions, imbalances in the distribution of military capabilities, corruption-enabled arms diversion, and diminished military capability. Corruption in defence procurement can undermine the quality and reliability of military equipment and infrastructure, jeopardising the safety and operational effectiveness of armed forces during potentially critical situations.

To manage these risks, increases in defence spending must be accompanied by corresponding improvements in transparency and defence governance.

Above: Hybrid Regional Meeting between TI-DS with TI Chapter Representatives from Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Looking ahead

Our visit to Taiwan exposed us to the dedicated efforts of the Taiwanese government to uphold transparency and integrity standards in their defence and security sectors. However, as is often the case in countries with high military expenditures and national security pressures, it remains possible for the full extent of the risk of corruption, or the perception thereof, to be overlooked. This risk has the potential to significantly impact a nation’s defence readiness and deterrence, Taiwan included.

Therefore, the need for continuous improvement is paramount. Addressing corruption risks within the defence sector is not an ethical obligation; it is a strategic imperative for Taiwan’s security, reputation, and stability. By actively working to eliminate corruption risks, Taiwan can continue to bolster its defence capabilities and contribute to regional stability, whilst at the same time setting an example for other countries in the region and beyond.

Proactive regional cooperation to promote defence integrity

In the margins of the Integrity Forum, we took the opportunity to convene and strengthen our alliances for more robust regional and global advocacy with Transparency International Chapter representatives in the region including South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

By aligning regional priorities and interests with our chapter colleagues, we eagerly anticipate more countries stepping up as champions against corruption within their national defence sectors, emulating Taiwan’s example and igniting a contagious movement of heightened integrity and security throughout the region. We’ll continue to emphasise that civil society organisations like Transparency International Defence and Security are allies in this ongoing, challenging, and profoundly important struggle to instil integrity in defence and security and create a safer world for all.


Yi Kang Choo is Programme Officer at Transparency International Defence and Security.

The UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, released in July, makes twelve modest but achievable recommendations on how we can prevent conflict and build peace better. None of them mention fighting corruption, but that doesn’t mean it is completely off the cards. Marking United Nations Day, our evidence and advocacy officer Emily Wegener looks at how corruption can – and indeed must – be embedded in its implementation.

“Wars do end!”, Scott Straus wrote in 2012, reflecting on the fact that the number of civil wars in Africa halved between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. A decade on, things are looking much less positive. The number of state-based conflicts in Africa nearly doubled in the ten years following 2012, with even higher numbers of non-state-based conflicts. Globally, we saw the highest number of state-based battle-related deaths since 1984 in the last year (figures from the Peace Research Institute Oslo).

It’s clear that new approaches to peacebuilding and conflict prevention are needed. The New Agenda for Peace, one of a series of eleven policy briefs published by the UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres in preparation for his ambitious Summit of the Future in 2024, outlines the UN’s vision for a collective security system.

Transparency International Defence & Security (TI-DS) welcomes this New Agenda for Peace and embraces its strong emphasis on conflict prevention and national ownership. Moreover, TI-DS appreciates that trust, solidarity and universality have been made the three core principles for an effective collective security system. is closely linked to countering corruption, an aspect surprisingly absent from the New Agenda for Peace, prompting us to question why.

Corruption is a fundamental threat to human security. All of the ten lowest-ranking countries in the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) exhibit low to very low states of peace in the 2023 Global Peace Index (GPI), with four of them being amongst the lowest-ranking countries in the GPI too.

This trend continues in the defence and security sectors, which are often directly linked to conflict and insecurity, and closely connected with instability such as coups. 62% of the countries ranked in the  ) indicate high to critical levels of corruption risks across their defence sectors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, five of the ten lowest-ranking countries on the GDI also show low to very low levels of peace according to the GPI.

Connecting recommendations with anti-corruption efforts

The core of the New Agenda for Peace consists of twelve recommendations for action. These recommendations provide significant opportunities for the integration of anti-corruption measures, by:

  • Integrating anti-corruption measures into national conflict prevention strategies, to “shift the prevention and sustaining peace paradigm within countries”.
  • Reinforcing commitments to SDG 16 and SDG 16.5, the Goal on peace, justice and strong institutions and its target on substantially reducing corruption and bribery, as part of accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda (Agenda for Peace Action 4).
  • Encouraging International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to support anti-corruption programmes as part of funding for conflict prevention, stabilization, and peacebuilding (Agenda for Peace Action 4), and advising IFIs on funding anti-corruption activities to “build a stronger collective security machinery” (Agenda for Peace Action 12).
  • Empowering the Peacebuilding Commission to lead thematic discussions on integrating anti-corruption into peacebuilding as an issue affecting both peace and development (Agenda for Peace Action 12).
  • Addressing the diversion of small arms and light weapons (SALW) by strengthening anti-corruption measures (Agenda for Peace Action 7).
  • Including the social and economic costs of defence sector corruption in the proposed study on the social and economic impact of military spending (Agenda for Peace Action 7).  

Not explicit, but a starting point

Although it fails to offer the strong language on anti-corruption, the New Agenda for Peace nonetheless offers multiple entry points for integrating anti-corruption into conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The extent to which this is done in practice will play a key part in determining the Agenda’s ultimate success.












Responding to the reported coup in Gabon, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

This is the eighth coup in Central and West Africa in the last three years.

Corruption in the security sector has long fuelled insecurity across the region.

It has been inadequately addressed through security sector reform.

The consequences for the social contract and governance are severe.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

The deposed Niger government’s efforts fighting corruption contrast markedly with the neglect shown in neighbouring Burkina Faso ahead of the previous coups which rocked the region. Transparency International Defence and Security’s Mohamed Bennour, Michael Ofori-Mensah and Denitsa Zhelyazkova compare the collapse of the two nations and show how ECOWAS can reinforce democracy in the region.

Upon his election as chair of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS last month, Nigeria’s new president Bola Tinubu made plain his intentions to champion democracy in efforts to arrest the spate of military uprisings that have disrupted the region in recent years.

It wasn’t long however before another arrived, this time in Niger. ECOWAS swiftly threatened military intervention. ECOWAS and other power brokers traditionally tend to respond to events of this kind with talk of zero tolerance and sanctions – tough words but sentiment that, too often, is accompanied by minimal analysis of the root causes.

Transparency International in Niger are among the civil society groups that have observed a trend leading to coups in their country: the discovery of lucrative natural resources. In November, the Niger-Benin pipeline, the largest in Africa, is due to start exporting crude petroleum for the first time. This will multiply Niger’s crude exports by five, with an expected GDP increase of 24 per cent. Before this, the discovery of uranium in 1974 coincided with the overthrow of Niger’s leadership. Then an oil boom in 2010 was swiftly followed by another coup.

The resources vary but the outcomes follow a pattern.

The removal of Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum has been lamented by our colleagues on the ground. This is because he had been showing willingness to step up to the long-ignored challenge of confronting corruption in the country.

Supporters of Bazoum protested in the street against the coup, together with CSOs and unions. Some have expressed their scepticism about the military being able to solve the governance challenges and issues of insecurity faced in the country.

The scepticism is driven by the fact that Niger’s security had been progressing better than in neighbouring countries, with fewer terror fatalities than those recorded in Mali and Burkina Faso.

There have been counter protests in Niger. Yet Bazoum had only been in power for two years. ANLC, (Transparency International’s chapter in Niger) had enjoyed political support from the president and parliament for the adoption of an anti-corruption law, central to addressing risks in defence and security and other sectors. This law, if and when implemented, will protect informants, witnesses, experts and whistleblowers. It will also criminalise bad practices common in Niger, such as the over-invoicing of public contracts and refusing to declare assets of civil and military figures.

Contrasting situation in Burkina Faso – decline and lost trust

The strides that had been made in Niger contrast with the decline seen in Burkina Faso, which until last week had been the nation that had suffered a coup most recently. There, a failure to secure enough resources for the army put paid to its elected leaders. Endemic corruption within the security forces contributed to the eroding of the perceived legitimacy of authorities. Public trust in government was lost. Several reports from Transparency International Defence and Security have shown how this creates dynamics for the expansion of non-state and extremist groups.

Corruption is not a victimless crime. In April, 44 civilians were killed by terrorist groups in north-eastern Burkina Faso.  Later that month, a further 60 were killed by men in national military uniform in the northern village of Karma.

Ironically, Burkina Faso was considered immune to the regional spread of violence until relatively recently. Almost overnight, the land-locked state found itself a focal point in the expansion strategies of various extremist groups when a Romanian citizen was abducted in Tambao on Burkina Faso’s north-east border with Mali and Niger in 2015.

Ever since, terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Burkinabe-founded Ansarul Islam have been exploiting an unresolved socio-economic crisis amid endemic corruption.

At a summit in February, the African Union announced that Burkina Faso and Mali will remain suspended from the continental bloc. Adding more pressure to the countries’ leadership, ECOWAS also extended existing sanctions on both countries, “reaffirming zero tolerance against unconstitutional change of government“.

Sanctions can be a useful tool. They deliver a clear stance against illegal and undemocratic change of power. However they do not offer lasting solutions to some of the core issues behind the takeovers. And they can risk exacerbating grievances and harming the most vulnerable groups.

In order to build a democratic and secure future in Burkina Faso, corruption in the defence sector must be tackled. There must be a focus on pragmatic reforms to ensure, and safeguard, transparency, accountability and efficacy. And civil society must be involved in the process. Our Government Defence Integrity Index provides evidence supporting arguments that the more open to civil participation and transparent a government is, the higher the level of institutional resilience to corruption.

Until last month, Niger had what Burkina has needed. National civil society was engaged with both government and the military, working for greater transparency and tackling defence sector corruption.

Now, our colleagues in Niger have called for “the immediate restoration of a civil regime supported by inclusive governance and the preservation of civic space. These measures are essential to maintain the principles of transparency and accountability that we defend.”

Not for the first time, as the international community scrambles to respond to events in the country, and watches as they continue to unfold, we have been reminded that corruption is a fundamental threat to security. Access to and control over natural resources drives power struggles that extend beyond country borders. Only driving out corruption will suffice to break the cycle for all those suffering in the Sahel.

Responding to reports of corruption in Ukraine military recruitment centres, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

Reports of “unfit to serve” certificates being sold from Ukraine’s regional military recruitment centres demonstrate once again how corruption can potentially undermine military systems.

This case affirms the role free media can play in holding officials to account while it has been good to see swift action taken by the government since the findings were published.

In contrast to the corruption-related problems that have plagued the effectiveness of Russia’s Army from the start, Ukraine has invested in improving oversight and accountability.

Ukraine is continuing to fight corruption at the same time as fighting on the battlefield. With the stakes this high, they know they must win on both fronts.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Transparency International Defence and Security Director Josie Stewart said:

We welcome the report of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry on private military and security companies (PMSCs), to which we gave evidence. We are particularly pleased to see the recommendation that the UK should include, as a key criteria for assessing UK security partnerships, “the level of willingness on both sides to uphold transparency and standards of good governance”.

This is essential to mitigate risks of corruption, conflict, and insecurity. We are disappointed however not to see more focus on addressing regulatory oversight of the global PMSC industry. A draft UN Convention on Regulating PMSC Activities has been the subject of international debate since 2011, yet no meaningful progress has been made. As a minimum, the UK should adopt our recommendations on PMSC beneficial ownership, contract and export transparency. This would help set a standard for PMSC oversight and accountability, as well as protect the UK’s domestic PMSCs from being tarred with the same brush as malign groups like Wagner.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

By Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence and Security

The latest NATO gathering, staged earlier this week [June 11-12], represented a crucial opportunity for militaries to address the challenges facing the Alliance and strengthen deterrence and defence. Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine provided the backdrop. This landscape should also galvanise us to address a further challenge that must not be ignored. Corruption in military operations and other defence governance issues, including procurement and military expenditure, can lead to money intended for the frontlines being lost and, as history has taught us, undermine the very security goals the Alliance seeks.

Allegations surfaced earlier this year that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence was planning to overpay suppliers for food intended for troops. The scandal prompted hearings in the Ukrainian parliament and investigations, ultimately leading to the passing of legislation enhancing transparency in defence procurements.

This law requires the publication of core information about direct contracts. Although there are still challenges in ensuring full and timely disclosure of this information, Ukraine took a bold step towards greater transparency, particularly in the midst of ongoing conflict.

It is essential to fight corruption during times of war. It can be risky to do so – to draw attention to corruption, and to mess with the interests and incentives of key actors in the theatre of war. But the risks of not doing so – or of putting it off until later – are far greater. Failure to tackle corruption during war guarantees that it will flourish. And when it does, it will defeat the prospect of moving on from conflict to stability and security.

Delivering on deterrence and defence

During this week’s NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, leaders gathered to tackle the challenges facing the Alliance. Ukraine was one. Another was the imperative to strengthen deterrence and defence.

For those who are not familiar with military terminology: deterrence is a strategy that involves convincing your adversary not to attack by making them understand that their objectives will not be achieved through such an attack. Defence becomes necessary when deterrence fails.

Strengthening both deterrence and defence depends on improving the governance of the defence and security sector, with a particular focus on strengthening resilience against corruption.

An army plagued with corruption, such as soldiers accepting bribes, governments misusing military expenditure, and officials making decisions influenced by personal gain, will not be able to win a war – and it will not be able to deliver on deterrence. It will be perceived as an enemy that can be easily defeated.

An army that is unpaid, under-fed, and under-equipped due to embezzlement and black-market activities of senior officers, will not be able to protect its citizens and territory. Corrupt defence and security forces increase the vulnerability of states to external and internal aggression – they are not able to deliver on defence.

Our 2020 Governance Defence Integrity Index revealed that 14 of the then 22 NATO member states did not address corruption in their military doctrines. This means that corruption is not considered a strategic issue in the military operations of 63 per cent of then-NATO members, and there are no guidelines on how to mitigate associated risks. This should be a sobering fact for NATO leaders.

What good looks like

Defence institutions must integrate the fight against corruption into military doctrines, conduct corruption risk assessments, implement effective anti-corruption mechanisms, enhance oversight, and close the gaps that allow for wrongdoing. Additionally, increasing transparency in defence budgets, spending, and procurement, protecting whistleblowers, and engaging with civil society to assess corruption risks are all vital steps towards achieving deterrence and defence.

Our Governance Defence Integrity Index sets a global standard. As NATO leaders head home from the summit, they should be thinking about how well their defence and security sectors meet this standard.

Responding to the opening of the the United Nations Human Rights Council session on Myanmar, Transparency International Defence and Security Director Josie Stewart said:

At least US$1 billion in arms and materials to build weapons have entered Myanmar since the military coup in 2021. Not only does this point to a lax enforcement of existing arms embargoes and the insufficiency of the non-binding UN Security Council resolution in place. It also points to the role of corruption in fuelling serious human rights violations.

As the newest report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar shows, Myanmar’s arms imports are largely financed by the revenue generated by and siphoned away from state-owned mining enterprises. Offshore accounts in countries such as Singapore and Thailand held by the military junta as well as bank accounts used by arms dealers in these countries have facilitated arms deals.

Ahead of the upcoming discussions at the Human Rights Council on Myanmar, Transparency International Defence and Security urges countries to strengthen their legislation to better target the illicit financial flows that enable arms transfers to Myanmar to ensure that arms embargoes are no longer circumvented, and the junta’s capacity to commit human rights violations is curtailed.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Responding to the risks of corruption and to peace posed by defence deals being discussed at an Oslo conference this week, Transparency International Director of International Engagement Sara Bandali said:

Scores of arms manufacturers and brokers have descended on Norway this week to discuss a controversial aspect of the global arms trade: defence companies’ side agreements with governments to win major weapons contracts (offsets). Norway, the UK, and other European countries are rapidly updating their defence offsets or industrial cooperation policies to strengthen European weapon supply chains and support Ukraine.

While we understand the push to strengthen European defence capabilities, the increased use of defence offsets presents significant corruption risks with policies that are overly flexible and lack critical transparency and government oversight. Defence companies, brokers, or government officials have used defence offsets as a key vehicle for bribes, which have resulted in the purchase of faulty or inappropriate equipment or the embezzlement of government funds.

Transparency International Defence and Security is concerned about these trends. We encourage government officials and defence companies attending the conference to discuss ways to encourage more transparency and effective oversight of defence offsets to help prevent corruption and its adverse effects on peace and stability.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Ed Storey and Sabrina White reflect on the recently marked ‘UN peacekeeper day’.

The United Nations (UN) must continue to reform to address ongoing concerns related to sexual exploitation and abuse. Furthermore, in the interests of strengthening prevention efforts and supporting justice, we strongly believe that some forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse should be recognised and approached as sexual forms of corruption.

Defined simply, sexual extortion is a sexual form of corruption that refers to the abuse of entrusted power through psychological rather than physical coercion to obtain a sexual advantage or favour. For example, the exchange of sex for food or basic goods required for survival or sex for a salary constitute a sexual form of corruption. Acknowledging that some forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse are sexual forms of corruption would allow for a fresh perspective on corruption evident in peacekeeping operations and present an opportunity for improving integrity and accountability of peacekeeping.

Since their first mission in 1948 to the Middle East, UN peacekeepers, the blue helmets, have come to be a symbol of hope and human cooperation across the globe. UN peacekeepers have embarked on some 72 missions since their formation in which over 1 million men and women have served. Their interventions have undoubtedly saved countless lives, and the international community owes the approximately 3,500 peacekeepers who have laid down their lives in services a great debt of gratitude. However, these peacekeeping missions have left numerous stories and scandals of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in their wake. From individual cases of rape, to running a child sex ring in Haiti, and peacekeepers exchanging food for sex, it has grown obvious that U.N peacekeeping operations face a systemic problem of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, and sexual forms of corruption.

Harrowing stories 

The victims’ stories often follow a tragically similar pattern. Peacekeepers are typically deployed to war-torn regions of the world inhabited by people who may be struggling to meet their basic survival needs. Furthermore, amidst an often-unstable security situation and due to the financial resources and demand for services accompanying missions, civilians often congregate around peacekeeper bases. Peacekeepers have a position of authority, access to shelter, food, and financial resources. They are in a prime position to prey upon those they should be protecting. Victims are often very young, sometimes prepubescent, typically out of school, and with a family struggling or unable to support them. Many victims are led to believe that they are cared for by their abuser and come to hope that by submitting to abuse they may be able to escape to a better life elsewhere. Such cases are well documented by the UN itself, and some victims have been left with children fathered and abandoned by peacekeepers which places a significant financial burden on survivors who may already struggling.

Many of these cases of sexual assault are well illustrated in the harrowing story of Sarah, as reported by the Economist. However, a significant number of the crimes of peacekeepers should be classified as acts of sexual extortion, and therefore both sexual violence and corruption. These acts are distinct from rape as they involve a person in a position of authority psychologically rather than physically coercing a victim to engage in survival sex, defined as sexual acts performed in return for the basic necessities to support life such as food or shelter. There are numerous cases of young victims coerced into survival sex with peacekeepers documented by multiple organisations for a significant amount of time.

As long ago as 2001, Save the Children reported many cases of vulnerable, very young girls, being forced to remove their clothing for peacekeepers cameras in exchange for biscuits. In many cases, rape and survival sex are closely linked, and often initial sexual assault may later necessitate a survivor engaging to survival sex to provide for a child a peacekeeper has fathered then abandoned.

These circumstances that may force victims into survival sex are clearly represented in the story of Grace and Emma. In Grace’s case, sexual relations with a Uruguayan peacekeeper left her pregnant. Grace was unable to cover the costs of pregnancy, childbirth and raising Emma, and was therefore forced to engage in survival sex. Grace would meet with peacekeepers in a nearby UN base where she would receive a little money, food or hygiene products in exchange for sex to support Emma. There are numerous stories like Grace’s, in a study on peacekeeper abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was found that survival sex in exchange for basic essential goods was the most prominently recurring motivation for engaging sexually with peacekeepers.

Viewing these crimes as corrupt acts, as well as sexual violence, opens new avenues for prevention, response, and potential prosecution. This goes for all incidences of sexual corruption, including survival sex and sex for jobs in the humanitarian sector. These cases illustrate that corruption is not solely an issue of good governance, but also individual abuses of power are powerful reminders of how destructive of an impact corruption has on the lives on individuals. Often by necessity, policy discussions remain at the abstract level, focusing on good governance. However, we strongly believe that the stories of victims and survivors must be acknowledged and at the policy-making table, to keep discussions grounded and the stakes at play in mind.

The United Nations has taken steps in the right direction in response to these issues, especially since António Guterres’ election as Secretary-General. But, there remains much to be done, and the UN must commit to tackling this systemic corruption issue head-on and aggressively to ensure that UN peacekeepers are successful in their role of ensuring rather than undermining human security. It is strongly recommended that some forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse are acknowledged as sexual forms of corruption and that anti-corruption training be provided alongside training on the zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and gender. We owe it to the victims and survivors to pursue justice, and to ensure that the matter is not shelved until the next media storm brings it to light.


Ed Storey is a Transparency International Defence and Security Intern and a University of Sussex Corruption and Governance postgraduate student. Sabrina White is Transparency International Defence and Security’s Gender Specialist and a PhD researcher in victim-centred approach to sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping.

Responding to EU plans, Transparency International Defence and Security Director Josie Stewart said:

Transparency International Defence and Security welcomes the new anti-corruption plans announced by the European Union this month.

Our most recent Government Defence Integrity index established that EU member states are exposed to an alarming risk of corruption in military operations.

This is due to a lack of anti-corruption measures sufficient for governing the sector.

Combating corruption is crucial to ensuring the rule of law, protecting human rights and promoting sustainable development.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Responding to fresh data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) demonstrating record global military spending, Transparency International Defence and Security Director, Josie Stewart, said:

New SIPRI data has revealed that the total global military expenditure increased by 3.7 per cent in real terms in 2022, reaching a new high of $2240 billion.

This increase in spending – coupled with our Government Defence Integrity index’s finding that nearly two-thirds of countries face a high to critical risk of corruption in their defence and security sectors – should be cause for concern for governments around the world.

To ensure that military expenditure is contributing to security rather than corruption and abuse, governments should strengthen transparency, accountability, and oversight in the defence sector, providing for adequate scrutiny from lawmakers, auditors, and civil society.

Transparency is the best way for states to ensure that military spending is used effectively to enhance security.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340