Illicit Trafficking and Smuggling

Essential problem

Responses to illicit trafficking are impeded by weak capacity of law enforcement agencies and patchy cooperation among member states

Export-driven growth in combination with inter-regional competition will result in medium- to long-term reductions in transportation cost. Anticipated increases in traffic flows in the coming decade will force countries to improve the efficiency of their infrastructure and reduce the transaction costs of lengthy border inspections. This will further increase cross-border trade. Major regional infrastructure and development projects will concentrate resources along key zones of movement - the so called "development corridors". While these trends are positive in principle, and will lower costs to consumers, they also portend increased opportunities for organized criminal groups to exploit the vulnerable. Law enforcement must therefore be part of the development agenda. An effective criminal justice system must end the current high levels of impunity which organized criminal groups enjoy. At all stages, the criminal justice response to organized criminal groups involved in trafficking drugs, human beings, illegal firearms, timber products, and smuggling migrants must reflect internationally-agreed criminal justice and human rights standards. Law enforcement authorities have generally lagged behind organized crime groups in terms of organization, adaptability, adoption of new technology and effective networking.

The two main reasons for law enforcement's reduced effectiveness are: (a) inadequate technical capacity and inadequate operating resources; and (b) insufficient cooperation among law enforcement agencies within and across borders. Both of these factors contribute to ineffective handling of a range of crimes. Insufficient political commitment and varying levels of corruption also reduce effective operational law enforcement responses. The implications are clear for law enforcement in the region. It must increase national capacity to respond and it must improve intelligence sharing, specifically cross-border intelligence-sharing. The focus of the UNODC programme in illicit trafficking will be on those crimes which by their very nature tend to have a strong transnational character and are highly damaging to human security and sustainable development.
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Strategic concerns

  • Although Governments in the region continue to ramp up their efforts to tackle trafficking in persons (TIP), there are few indications at present of a tangible reduction in the scale of the problem. Continued focus is needed on narrowing the gap between policy and practice. Victim centred approaches need to be better understood and embedded in operational activity and victim support mechanisms continue to require strengthening. Ensuring easier access to legal channels for migrant workers needs to be prioritised, as evidence continues to emerge that exploitation of labour is the key trafficking concern in the region, especially among irregular migrant workers. Governments need to work urgently with different industries to improve conditions for these workers.
  • Migrant smuggling remains a significant challenge. Irregular migration within Southeast Asia is to a large extent facilitated by migrant smugglers . Abuse of legal entry channels and the misuse of legal travel documents obtained by fraudulent means continue to play an important role in facilitating long-distance migrant smuggling. Smuggled migrants are exposed to considerable danger during the smuggling process, and are often left vulnerable to human trafficking on reaching their destination. Of particular concern is the steep increase in migrant smuggling by sea to Australia which has caused the deaths of hundreds of migrants.
  • With respect to illicit drugs, poppy cultivation and opium production continued to increase in 2012, in both Myanmar and Lao PDR. Production, trafficking and use of methamphetamine (either in pill or crystalline form) soared in East and Southeast Asia in 2012. The diversion of licit chemicals and pharmaceutical preparations for the manufacture of methamphetamine also continues to be a concern. The emergence of new psychoactive substances (i.e. "designer drugs" or "legal highs"), coupled with inadequate treatment capacity and forensic analysis capacity remains an emerging issue of serious concern.
  • Crimes such as the illegal trade in timber and wildlife trafficking have reached alarming levels in East Asia and the Pacific. Other environmental crimes like the smuggling of e-waste and ozone depleting substances remains largely unaddressed by the criminal justice systems in the region. Limited capacities and political will at national level prevents any form of significant international cooperation to tackle environmental crimes. At the same time criminal networks involved in the smuggling of environmentally-sensitive commodities are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
  • Levels of trust, information exchange and operational support among law enforcement agencies operating along and across the land borders in the GMS need to be further enhanced. With the expected increase of mobility across borders within ASEAN starting from 2015, the capacity of border authorities to interdict illegal movements has to increase significantly.

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Implications for the future

Lack of technical capacity in some countries hinders progress in the Global SMART programme I. Lack of technical capacity in some countries hinders progress in the Global SMART programme

The limited technical capacity of some of the countries in the region has been a constant challenge faced by the programme. To help overcome this, the Global SMART programme is supporting the relevant agencies in developing alternate data-sharing structures which would be more convenient and accessible. This work will continue into 2013.
  II. Lack of resources, especially, funding shortfall, has hindered the ability to plan for the long term

A shortfall in funding has made a significant impact on the planning of activities. The lack of funding has hindered the ability to plan for the long term and to secure adequate project staffing levels (including consultants).
UNODC must continue to build a more prominent role in combating human trafficking in the region

UNODC engagement with key stakeholders around the important issues of victim support / identification and law enforcement capacity to investigate trafficking offences has developed significantly over the past twelve months. This process must continue and, subject to available funding, translate into concrete activities on the ground.

Cross-border cooperation to be significantly strengthened to tackle TOC threats While regional cooperation in the area of drug trafficking can count on several bilateral and multilateral agreements and financial commitments, the same cannot be said for other forms of Transnational Organised Crime, such migrants smuggling, human trafficking and environmental crime. The up-coming liberalization of movements of good and people within ASEAN presents significant challenges for law enforcement authorities along border lines. Yet, border checkpoints are still ill-equipped and understaffed to tackle TOC and the level of cooperation across the border is limited
Anti-trafficking efforts to be expanded in Myanmar and Lao PDR

In 2012, within the GMS region, UNODC has consolidated its anti-trafficking work with Cambodia and Viet Nam and it has started a more intense cooperation with Thailand. Yet, any sustainable success in tackling the illegal movements of people and commodities at regional level will have to include countries highly exposed to TOC threats, such as Myanmar and Lao PDR 

Fight against environmental crime still perceived as a low priority in many countries Many Governments in the region have expressed concerns for the growing sophistication of crimes affecting the environmental wealth in the region. Yet, many of these political statements do not always translate squarely into more effective efforts within the national criminal justice systems, where the relevant authorities tend to consider such crimes as a low-level priority.


Implications for follow-up in 2013 and beyond

UNODC will focus its work in the region on the following areas:

In 2013, the Global SMART Programme (East Asia) aims to focus on developing national-level studies in a few selected countries and to continue to work on enhancing the data-generation capacities of priority countries, in order to continuously strengthen our understand of threat posed by ATS in our region.

SoM: In 2013, UNODC will continue to promote a comprehensive response to migrant smuggling, border controls and law enforcement alone cannot solve the problem of migrant smuggling. Such efforts have to be embedded in a wider migration and development policies. With regard to law enforcement, the need remains to better complement border control efforts by increasing the focus on investigating migrant smugglers. Against this backdrop, UNODC will continue to increase law enforcement capacities to pro-actively fight migrant smuggling. Also in 2013, UNODC will continue research and launch Voluntary Reporting System on Migrant Smuggling and Related Conduct (VRS-MSRC) in Support of the Bali Process with the objective to improving evidence-based knowledge in order to assist states in developing more effective counter-migrant smuggling policies and measures.

UNODC's engagement with Human Trafficking in the region continues to increase year on year. In 2013 UNODC will begin work with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Ministry of Justice, Thailand, to develop a specialist anti trafficking bureau. In a two year project UNODC will collaborate with the DSI through the provision of training, equipment, and tactical advice. The bureau will ensure that victim centred and human rights based approaches to investigation of trafficking are embedded into operational practice. Furthermore the programme of Police to Police networking among specialist anti trafficking units looks likely to continue throughout 2013 and possibly beyond. But much more is needed and much more is being asked of us. Given the amount of work on-going, and given the huge demands posed by the human trafficking problem in the region, it is clear that significantly greater resources will be needed in order to make a meaningful contribution.

Building on the work conducted during 2011-12 concerning the development of enhanced BLOs which deal with all forms of cross border crime rather than drugs only, through strengthening the existing cooperation mechanisms and identifying new sites for possible development. Priorities for 2013 also include:

  • Ensuring sustainable and government-owned financial plans for the support of the BLO mechanism
  • Expanding the engagement of the PATROL project in Myanmar and Lao PDR
  • Advocacy for a stronger commitment of the criminal justice systems to tackle every form of environmental crimes and support any initiative to make environmental crime as a priority for the ASEAN Senior Officers Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC)

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