Honoring courageous anti-corruption champions

Corruption fighters have exposed theft of COVID-19 relief funds, halted illegal mining in the Amazon and built a database highlighting public officials’ conflicts of interest.

That is how some of the eight winners of the U.S. State Department’s 2022 Anti-Corruption Champions Award are supporting open and accountable government necessary for democracy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the winners for their innovative approaches and perseverance, despite interrogations, harassment and threats. Some of the winners have seen their homes ransacked, relatives intimidated and colleagues killed.

“All of this I know has been brutal on you and on your families,” Blinken said during a December 9 ceremony in Washington. Yet “you have refused to give up.” Noting that many winners’ contributions span decades, he added, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your courage and for your sacrifice.”

8 headshots of anti-corruption leaders (State Dept.)
Top row: Marco Antonio Rueda Soto, Jean de Dieu Rakotondramihamina, Antonio Cervantes Garcia, Rozina Islam. Bottom row: Stevan Dojcinovic, Qismah Salih Ali Mendeli, Cynthia Gabriel, Janet Zhou. (State Dept.)

Corruption undermines democratic institutions, hollows out economies and erodes public trust. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the International Anti-Corruption Conference December 6 in Washington that the costs of corruption cross borders and affect health and human rights, security and prosperity.

President Biden has made combating corruption a core U.S. national security interest. To tackle the problem, the United States partners with other countries, enforces international standards and supports corruption fighters around the world.

The State Department launched the Anti-Corruption Champions Awards in 2021 and has now honored a total of 32 corruption fighters worldwide. This year’s eight new winners are journalists, activists and public officials who shine “a bright light on how graft undermines the ability of governments to meet people’s most basic needs in times of crisis,” Blinken said.

In Bangladesh, investigative reporter Rozina Islam exposed corrupt officials’ looting of COVID-19 relief funds that let lifesaving medical equipment go unused. She has continued pushing for accountability despite personal threats.

Blinken also commended winners on their innovative use of technology. Journalist Stevan Dojcinovic founded the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network in Serbia, which built a database making public officials’ assets and conflicts of interest publicly accessible.

Janet Zhou’s Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development uses social media, billboards and music to rally public support for its calls for answers in corruption cases.

Investigative journalist Antonio Cervantes Garcia, of the magazine ZETA in Mexico, has exposed public corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking. His investigations into a series of executions brought a sense of closure and justice to victims’ families.

During his 40-year judicial career, Colombian Supreme Court Justice Marco Antonio Rueda Soto’s investigations have led to the conviction of former high-level public officials, including in the Amazon where illegally lifted mining restrictions allowed for deforestation and pollution of Indigenous communities.

Central Bank of Iraq Director General Qismah Salih Ali Mendeli has increased oversight of the country’s financial and banking systems and helped lay the foundation of a rules-based economic system. As president of Madagascar’s Supreme Audit Institution, Jean de Dieu Rakotondramihamina’s investigations have uncovered evidence of fraud, waste and abuse.

Cynthia Gabriel, who won for exposing corrupt government procurement practices and environmental exploitation in Malaysia, said U.S. government support of corruption fighters strengthens their efforts. “Thank you again for this honor and for this tremendous recognition that will boost our work on anti-corruption and human rights,” she said.