|On July 17, Hafez Al-Assad, the son of Bashar Al-Assad, participated in the International Math Olympiad competition in Brazil as a member of the Syrian national team. Hafez scored last on the team and received one of the lowest rankings in the entire Olympiad competition. Syrian commentators were quick to ridicule his scores, but their commentary overlooked how Hafez gained admission on the team in the first place. There are no available details about the qualifying process, but one simple answer is that, as the son of the President, Hafez had priority to enter the prestigious competition – a practice of nepotism so common in Syria that many overlooked it. Syria has a long history of nepotism within its government and economic institutions. As a form of institutionalized corruption, nepotism must be addressed during Syria’s transition to ensure that government is ethical, impartial, and representative of all Syrians.
Nepotism is the use of power to provide jobs or other opportunities to unqualified or undeserving family or friends – a form of corruption because officials use public office for private gain. While there is no international standard for combatting nepotism, there are some international instruments that provide guidelines and principles. For example, Article 25(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that citizens have “the right and the opportunity” to access public service roles “on general terms of equality.” Moreover, Articles 7 through 9 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) encourages countries to create systems to prevent conflicts of interest, institute codes of conduct for public officials, and establish objective criteria for issuing government contracts.
Countries have adopted these principles into their national frameworks in various ways. Some countries include anti-nepotism and conflict of interest provisions in their constitutions. Such is the case in Article 26 of Colombia’s constitution. Other countries maintain ethical standards or codes of conduct to establish clear guidelines for public officials. While codes are important to set standards, the difficulty is often in upholding those standards in practice. For example, Jordan adopted a code of conduct for public sector employees that was a positive step towards implementing UNCAC, but the Jordanian government has struggled to fully operationalize it among all bureaucratic agencies.