16 October 2020 – Not a day passes without stories of organized crime making their way to the front pages of newspapers around the world. Despite copious legislation and strong law enforcement measures in most countries, criminal groups find ways to operate outside the rule of law across borders, causing immense physical, psychological, and financial damage to their victims.
Governments have since long joined efforts in combatting organized crime even as it continues to become more emboldened. With the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), signed in Palermo, Italy in 2000, they devised an international instrument enabling their collective fight against transnational organized crime. 20 years later, with 190 parties, the landmark document remains one of the most significant tools in international crime prevention; nevertheless, there is still much to be done.
As the Convention celebrates its 20th anniversary, Member States gathered both in person in Vienna and online this week for the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties to UNTOC, which hosted numerous virtual side events addressing specific challenges in tackling organized crime. For UNODC’s Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, early crime prevention through a variety of formative platforms is still the best way to contribute to a safer world.
“Nobody is born a criminal; criminals are made by their environment,” remarked Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO during a discussion organized by Education for Justice (E4J). She added that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the deepening of inequalities and the fragmentation in society, highlighting the dark side of globalization.
E4J’s mission is to educate learners, from the youngest to the university students, as an essential first step to crime prevention. With a series of innovative educational tools which include comics, video games, and university modules on the top crime prevention issues, E4J is supporting educators and parents as they instil a culture of lawfulness in the younger generation.
Some Member States have already begun to integrate E4J’s material into the national educational curriculum. In Uzbekistan, said Deputy Minister of Public Education Dilshod Kenzhaev during the event, “the ideas put forward by E4J have played an important role in the process of developing and introducing a new curriculum of secondary schools, to develop personal qualities in students and youth and build social and cultural life skills.”
But education does not only come through books and formal lessons. With its Youth Crime Prevention through Sports component, UNODC has developed Line Up Live Up, a sports-based, life skills initiative to build youth and community resilience, by strengthening key personal and social life skills, and by generating safe public spaces that facilitate positive youth engagement in marginalized communities. Line Up Live Up training, sometimes coupled with the provision of sports equipment to generate safe public spaces, has already been given to thousands of youth in several continents, and has been considered particularly efficient in areas suffering from gang violence.
This approach was discussed in a dedicated Global Programme side event this week, with experts from various Member States sharing their experiences and insights on dealing with the increasing gang violence. This phenomenon mostly affects young people – especially young males – who are socially and economically marginalized, and who may fall into gang culture in search of identity, financial gain or social status, or feel forced to join a gang when they find no opportunities for education or employment.
“In Peru,” explained General (R) PNP César Gentille Vargas, Minister of Interior, “we have amplified our work to use sport to bolster young people’s decision-making, problem solving and critical thinking.”
Even judiciaries are unfortunately not immune to organized crime. In a side event organized by UNODC’s Global Judicial Integrity Network, launched in 2018, assembled judges and judicial experts discussed the need to support judiciaries in addressing challenges and further exploring the links and reinforcing the bonds between the concepts of judicial integrity and issues such as corruption, human rights and transnational organized crime.
Among the problems faced by judiciaries is the need for the security of judges, and for their ability to act independently without fear of retribution from criminal groups who resort to numerous tactics to influence judgements. “The sophisticated nature of an organized crime structure might use a bribe in a more sophisticated way,” commented Judge Virginia Kendall, District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois in the United States. “It might not be cash; it might be getting their child into a university.”
The Global Judicial Integrity Network has developed training and material on judicial ethics which are now used in 59 countries, another UNODC contribution to the global fight against organized crime.
As discussions on the side-lines of the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties have clearly demonstrated, with the rise in international crime comes an increased resolve by Member States to continue joining forces in the global struggle against organized crime in all its facets, with the support of UNDOC.