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Organized crime threatens peace and human security, violates human rights and undermines economic, social, cultural, political and civil development of societies around the world.
Transnational organized crime manifests in many forms, including as trafficking in drugs, firearms and even persons. At the same time, organized crime groups exploit human mobility to smuggle migrants and undermine financial systems through money laundering. The vast sums of money involved can compromise legitimate economies and directly impact public processes by 'buying' elections through corruption. It yields high profits for its culprits and results in high risks for individuals who fall victim to it. Every year, countless individuals lose their lives at the hand of criminals involved in organized crime, succumbing to drug-related health problems or injuries inflicted by firearms, or losing their lives as a result of the unscrupulous methods and motives of human traffickers and smugglers of migrants.
Organized crime has diversified, gone global and reached macro-economic proportions: illicit goods may be sourced from one continent, trafficked across another, and marketed in a third. Transnational organized crime can permeate government agencies and institutions, fuelling corruption, infiltrating business and politics, and hindering economic and social development. And it is undermining governance and democracy by empowering those who operate outside the law.
The transnational nature of organized crime means that criminal networks forge bonds across borders as well as overcome cultural and linguistic differences in the commission of their crime. Organized crime is not stagnant, but adapts as new crimes emerge and as relationships between criminal networks become both more flexible, and more sophisticated, with ever-greater reach around the globe.
In short, transnational organized crime transcends cultural, social, linguistic and geographical borders and must be met with a concerted response.
The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto
UNODC is the guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Organized Crime Convention) and the three Protocols -on Trafficking in Persons, Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking of Firearms - that supplement it.
This is the only international convention, which deals with organized crime. It is a landmark achievement, representing the international community's commitment to combating transnational organized crime and acknowledging the UN's role in supporting this commitment. The adoption of the Convention at the fifty-fifth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 and its entry into force in 2003 also marked a historic commitment by the international community to counter organized crime.
The Organized Crime Convention offers States parties a framework for preventing and combating organized crime, and a platform for cooperating in doing so. States parties to the Convention have committed to establishing the criminal offences of participating in an organized crime group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice in their national legislation. By becoming parties to the UNTOC, States also have access to a new framework for mutual legal assistance and extradition, as well as a platform for strengthening law enforcement cooperation. States parties have also committed to promoting training and technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of national authorities to address organized crime.
The UNTOC does not contain a precise definition of 'transnational organized crime'. Nor does it list the kinds of crimes that might constitute it.
This lack of definition was intended to allow for a broader applicability of the Organized Crime Convention to new types of crime that emerge constantly as global, regional and local conditions change over time..
The Convention does contain a definition of 'organized criminal group'. In Article 2(a):
- a group of three or more persons that was not randomly formed;
- existing for a period of time;
- acting in concert with the aim of committing at least one crime punishable by at least four years' incarceration;
- in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.
Since most 'groups' of any sort contain three or more people working in concert and most exist for a period of time, the true defining characteristics of organized crime groups under the Convention are their profit-driven nature and the seriousness of the offences they commit.
The UNTOC covers only crimes that are 'transnational', a term cast broadly. The term covers not only offences committed in more than one State, but also those that take place in one State but are planned or controlled in another. Also included are crimes in one State committed by groups that operate in more than one State, and crimes committed in one State that has substantial effects in another State.
The implied definition 'transnational organized crime' then encompasses virtually all profit-motivated serious criminal activities with international implications. This broad definition takes account of the global complexity of the issue and allows cooperation on the widest possible range of common concerns.