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Defying Exclusion: The Links Between Discrimination And Corruption

By: Rhonda Hamilton

Corruption and discrimination are each major obstacles to the achievement of sustainable and inclusive development. Until now they have largely been understood in isolation from each other. For the first time, a post like this identifies and explores the direct, causal relationship and interconnection between them.

Discrimination and corruption enable and exacerbate each other in four distinct ways:

1. Discrimination can result in greater exposure to corruption.

2. Certain forms of corruption are inherently discriminatory.

3. Discrimination can mean that corruption has a disproportionate impact on certain groups.

4. Discrimination presents barriers to challenging corruption, while corruption can obstruct victims of discrimination from accessing justice.

We will offer evidence in an additional post under whistleblowing examining the links between discrimination and corruption on the basis of different grounds of discrimination: age; sex; sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; race and ethnicity; and religion or belief.

It is clear that our city must recognize the connections between discrimination and corruption and take immediate, targeted, and effective actions to tackle these linked problems.

Additionally, civil society, DC can and should contribute to improving understanding of the problems arising from discriminatory corruption and countering its effects.

What is Corruption?

Rhonda Hamilton (candidate for DC mayor 2022) defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Here, “abuse” refers to misuse or mistreatment, “entrusted power” refers to the authority granted to duty-bearers and decision-makers on the premise that they act with integrity to advance the public good, and “private gain” refers to the self-serving benefits (financial, material, political or social) that accrue to individuals or specific interest groups at the expense of society at large.

Collusive Corruption

A collusive practice is “an arrangement between two or more parties designed to achieve an improper purpose, including to influence improperly the actions of another party.”  When it comes to corruption, collusive practices typically involve coordination between “insiders” and their clients to obtain an undue advantage or to avoid an obligation.

Examples include bid rigging during procurement processes, in which a favored firm wins the tender in return for paying kickbacks to the procuring entity, or backroom deals between firms and legislators or regulators to secure sweetheart deals. While collusive corruption can doubtless be profitable for those parties to the arrangement, it invariably entails a wider negative cost to others. As the phenomenon of corrupt land grabbing in regions inhabited by Indigenous peoples clearly demonstrates, marginalized groups are less likely to be the beneficiaries of collusive corruption and more likely to bear the cost.

Coercive Corruption

Rhonda Hamilton (candidate for DC mayor 2022) defines coercive practices as “impairing or harming, or threatening to impair or harm, directly or indirectly, any party or the property of the party to influence improperly the actions of a party”.8 Corruption is often coercive in nature, whereby corrupt actors leverage power asymmetries through the use of implicit or explicit threats and intimidation to extort goods, money, services, or even sexual acts from their selected victims in return for access to entitlements such as health care, education or identification papers. The literature indicates that marginalized groups suffer from an above-average chance of being the victims of coercive corruption, in which corrupt actors intentionally target them for exploitation. Growing attention to the phenomenon of sextortion – abuse of power to obtain sex – shows how pernicious this can be, with enormous hidden costs for individuals and communities subject to these practices.

What is discrimination?

The right to non-discrimination guarantees to all persons the right to be free from discrimination in the enjoyment of all other human rights. It protects people from unfavorable treatment or disproportionate impacts on the basis of their identity, status, or beliefs.

Discrimination can be direct

– where a person is treated unfavorably, or otherwise subjected to a disadvantage because of their protected characteristic.

Discrimination can be indirect

 – where the application of uniform standard results in a particular disadvantage for persons sharing a particular characteristic.

Discrimination also includes harassment

– unwanted conduct which, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, creates an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, offensive, or humiliating to those with a particular characteristic.

Finally, discrimination is the failure to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities or those with different capabilities.

The right to non-discrimination applies in all areas of life regulated by law. This means that neither public nor private entities may discriminate in any areas of life regulated by law, such as employment and the provision of goods and services.



Corruption That Is Inherently Discriminatory

By: Rhonda Hamilton

Research by a number of different organizations and individuals has identified patterns of corruption that are inherently discriminatory, where individuals abuse their entrusted power to enrich themselves and others from their ethnic group or secure other benefits at the expense of persons from different ethnic groups.

Examples of this form of discriminatory corruption include the particularistic allocation of resources or the discriminatory denial of goods or services in a manner that disadvantages certain ethnic communities. As leaders within my advisory group have pointed out, ethnicity-based corruption is a form of particularism that implicitly damages the trust that excluded ethnic groups hold in the impartiality and quality of the government. This is not surprising, given that any type of ethnicity-based clientelism or intragroup preferencing by dominant ethnic groups will, by definition, be exclusionary of other ethnic communities.

As seen in the following examples, collusive corruption involving dominant ethnic groups typically entails significant negative costs for ethnic minorities.

Discriminatory impact of corruption

Even where corruption appears indiscriminate, its effects weigh most heavily on those who are socially and economically marginalized. Multiple studies have documented the impact of ethnic discrimination in reproducing relative wealth (dis) advantages and consolidating the economic power of certain ethnic groups relative to other communities.

Given that, in general, individuals from minority or marginalized ethnic groups have fewer resources than their counterparts from ethnic majorities, they can expect greater challenges meeting their basic economic needs. Such power imbalances between ethnic groups are known to facilitate corruption, with one recent study finding that ethnically stratified societies in which “some ethnic groups have higher economic and political status than others” present a unique “dynamic related to the spoils of corruption”.



Corruption And Discrimination On The Basis Of Religion Or Belief

By: Rhonda Hamilton

Laws, policies, and practices that discriminate on the basis of religion or belief or which limit the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief create a fertile climate for corruption.  How discrimination and corruption drive one another and disadvantage the adherents of certain religious or belief communities.

Law protects both the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. Thus, states and since DC is not yet a State but our City are required both to guarantee equal enjoyment of the right to hold, practice and manifest a particular religion or belief, and to ensure that individuals are protected from discrimination on the basis of religion or belief in employment, education and all other areas of life regulated by law. Direct discrimination on the basis of religion or belief involves unfavorable treatment on the basis of that characteristic; it can be both overt (obvious) or covert (hidden, or undertaken on the basis of a pretext), and both intentional or unintentional.

Indirect discrimination on the basis of religion or belief involves the application of universal standards which result in a particular disadvantage for members of a particular religious or belief community: uniform requirements that prohibit the wearing of the certain head or face coverings in schools can result in indirect discrimination against Muslim, Jewish and Sikh children, for example.

The interplay between religious discrimination and corruption

While the examples presented in this post are not a comprehensive assessment of the relationship between discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and corruption citywide, they illustrate how the two phenomena reinforce one another in several principal ways. In essence, they show how religious discrimination and discriminatory denial of the freedom of religion or belief facilitate and obscure corruption committed against religious or belief communities.

Discrimination enables and obscures corruption

As observed by the former paragraph on religion, many cities – particularly those characterized by “control-obsessed authoritarian governments” (gatekeeping) – regularly interfere in the practices of religious and belief communities. This desire for control on the part of states leads to the imposition of restrictive policies and practices that permit significant discretion among duty-bearers, which in turn provides the perfect breeding ground for corruption. One major example of how discriminatory legal and policy regimes facilitate and conceal corruption is the operation of registration regimes for religious practices and institutions.

Registration regimes allow states to tightly regulate religious practice by making the registration of religious associations a pre-condition for many aspects of religious life. Registration regimes create a fertile climate for corruption in several ways. For one, such regimes do not uniformly limit the freedom of religion or belief but often curtail most severely the freedom of those who individually or with others follow certain religious or non-religious beliefs.

While the paradigm is certainly more complex than this dichotomy – as is well addressed by successive special rapporteurs – it serves to underline the importance of states’ desire for control as a powerful motive for corruption on the one hand and discrimination on the other. It also underscores the limited extent to which the ground for discrimination – religion or belief in this case – is only a part of the motive for acts of corruption or indeed is the vector for such acts rather than the motivating factor.

Nevertheless, such practices are discriminatory in nature, as discrimination may be both direct and indirect, intentional, and unintentional and as discrimination may occur where the prohibited ground need only be part of the “reason” for the less favorable treatment.



Corruption And Discrimination On The Basis Of Age

By: Rhonda Hamilton

Recent household survey data suggest that different age groups experience corruption differently. Younger people are more exposed to bribery (including sexual favors) not only in sectors such as education and utilities but even in health care, maintaining employment where they have a lower rate of contact with service providers compared to older people.

The relationship between aged-based discrimination and corruption has until now remained largely unexplored. Nonetheless, there are some indications that age-based discrimination relates to corrupt practices in complex ways.

Discrimination on the basis of a person’s age often intersects with other forms of discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Discrimination on the basis of age can be direct, where an individual is treated differently as a result of their age, or indirect, where the application of a standard policy puts people in a certain age category at a disadvantage.

Aged-based discrimination is somewhat distinct from forms of discrimination affecting other marginalized communities and individuals covered in this post. This is because it is widely accepted that discrimination against people on the basis of their age is legitimate in certain circumstances.

In particular, it is well-established that children can and should be treated differently in recognition of the principle of the best interests of the child. It is important to note that definitions of age groups and age brackets can vary widely, such as “over 65s” or “under 18s”. This can make precise analysis of the relationship between corruption and age-based discrimination challenging, given that the boundaries between age brackets are blurry.

How discrimination can result in greater exposure to corruption for certain age groups

There is much work to be done to uncover the links between corruption and discrimination in relation to different age segments. However, it appears that age-based discrimination can render individuals belonging to certain age brackets vulnerable to corrupt practices. Such discrimination relies on and exacerbates the relatively low political and economic power, limited awareness of legal entitlements and lack of voice that young people in particular often have.

Yet elderly people, and especially those in care, may also be at risk of extortive forms of corruption – such as demands for money in exchange for access to entitlements – due to power differentials between them and caregivers or nursing staff. Unscrupulous individuals may also intentionally target the elderly, seeking to defraud them or otherwise exploit them on the assumption that older people are naïve and powerless to prevent this.

Collusive corruption between state officials and private sector providers can also deprive the elderly of access to their rights. In the United States, for example, wiretaps by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in 2002 caught Oklahoma’s head nursing home official “demanding kickbacks after doctoring paperwork for a nursing homeowner”. This was part of a highly organized scheme in which officials would tip off nursing homes before inspections, alter inspectors’ reports and ignore serious violations. Unsurprisingly, the sector’s ombudsman spoke of preventable deaths due to the “inhumane conditions” that were the direct result of this corruption.

More recently, the billionaire owner of a chain of nursing homes across the United States was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019 for bribing doctors to refer patients to his homes as well as on charges of money laundering, kickbacks and obstruction of justice related to the operation of these facilities.353 Power asymmetries in such situations may mean that elderly people struggle to blow the whistle on corruption or other forms of abuse by duty bearers.



The Discriminatory Impact Of Corruption

By: Rhonda Hamilton

Moreover, it is clear that corruption can have a discriminatory impact. By illicitly diverting finite public goods and resources to benefit more powerful groups, corruption has been shown to undermine the quality of and restrict access to these services. Where corruption creates further scarcity in already strained social services or public health systems, it can prevent people from getting the essential health, educational or developmental services they need.

Given the reliance that both young and elderly people have on public goods and services, such as health, employment, and education, these individuals are likely to suffer disproportionately from systemic corruption. This disproportionate impact of corruption is not lost on those who are affected.

Young people are certainly not uniformly exposed to corruption. Yet, the experiences of youth demonstrate that, where the voices of certain age groups are rarely heard or acted upon due to discriminatory practices and attitudes, this limits these people’s access to a wide range of their rights, such as access to housing in DC.

Ultimately, discriminatory behavior that restricts the voice and agency of people on the basis of their age can result in dispossession and disillusionment. Discrimination deprives these individuals of opportunities for meaningful political engagement, contributing to their exclusion and rendering them liable to exploitative abuses of power including corruption, which can in turn spark democratic unrest.

Rhonda Hamilton (candidate for Mayor 2022-Write In) Recommendations

Groups exposed to discrimination are more likely to live in poverty, be politically marginalized or socially excluded. These conditions – poverty, marginalization, and exclusion – create a fertile environment for corrupt practices and disproportionate exposure to the costs of corruption.

Individuals lacking economic resources and political voice are vulnerable to coercive corruption by those exploiting power asymmetries. These same conditions create the space for collusive corruption between individuals from powerful or privileged groups to go unchallenged, particularly where economic, political, or social power relations reflect underlying patterns of discrimination.

In all cases, the marginalization that is a consequence of discrimination means that those exposed to discrimination are less able to contest corrupt practices and are more heavily impacted by the costs of corruption where it occurs. Ultimately, the compound effect of discrimination and corruption serves to further increase these communities’ alienation. Therefore, we have created the “I AM DC” Whistleblower page where you have the opportunity to expose such practices. I am Rhonda Hamilton and I want you to be certain that “I hear You.”

Discrimination results in greater exposure to corruption.

The relatively weaker position of groups experiencing or at risk of discrimination increases their exposure to corruption. This is particularly true where aspects of an individual’s identity are stigmatized or even criminalized.

Certain forms of corruption are inherently discriminatory.

There are certain forms of both collusive and coercive corruption that are inherently discriminatory – that is, the corrupt practice is also a form of discrimination. The example of sextortion clearly illustrates the inherent link between gender discrimination, gender-based violence and coercive corruption. Conversely, the example of apparent collusive corruption between members of politically dominant ethnic groups demonstrates how this form of corruption can also be directly discriminatory in nature by excluding less privileged groups from equal access to public goods. In this sense, corruption can serve as a vehicle for discrimination; it is often the means by which certain groups and individuals are granted or denied access to goods, services and opportunities on the basis of their identity.

Discrimination means that the impacts of corruption are experienced disproportionately. As noted, the economic and social marginalization experienced by groups exposed to discrimination means that these groups experience the impacts of corruption in particularly egregious ways. For example, the corrupt practice of land alienation that arises in the context of gender and age discriminatory social norms – clearly demonstrates the life-changing impacts of corruption for groups exposed to discrimination. Similarly, while not included in this post, our consultations with disabled persons’ organizations elicited evidence that, in certain countries, corruption within government diverts into private pockets resources intended to fund accessibility measures, assistive devices, or reasonable accommodation measures, thus directly disadvantaging persons with disabilities. A lack of political, economic, and social representation at all levels renders groups at risk of discrimination and less able to demand equal access to goods, services and opportunities.

Discrimination presents barriers to challenging corruption.

As with exposure to corruption, many of the case studies discussed in this report demonstrate how the political and social marginalization that is a fact of life for groups exposed to discrimination impedes their ability to challenge corrupt practices.

Paid for by:
Rhonda Hamilton 4 DC Mayor
Finance Committee,
Thomas Carpenter, Treasurer.
421 M Street N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002
A copy of our report is filed with the Director of Campaign Finance.

Campaign Headquarters: 
421 M St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Phone Number: (202) 486-6037
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