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United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice

 

The United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice present an interesting opportunity for Model United Nations to concentrate simulations on crime prevention and criminal justice topics within a single body.

The crime congresses have contributed to shaping international and domestic policies, and promoted novel thinking and approaches to complex issues at the heart of one of the key areas of the modern State: the criminal justice system. They have made a considerable impact on the field of international crime prevention and criminal justice, and influenced national policies and professional practices.

History and purpose

The crime congress was established by the General Assembly in 1950 as the result of a resolution that transferred the functions of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission to the United Nations, on the condition that a congress on penitentiary matters should be convened by the United Nations every five years. The first Crime Congress was held in Geneva in 1955, when the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were adopted. Since then, crime congresses have been held every five years in different parts of the world, dealing with a vast array of topics.

The crime congresses provide a truly global forum for countries, international organizations, academia, civil society and the media to collaborate and discuss how crime prevention and criminal justice are integral to sustainable development and promoting the rule of law, as well as the successes and challenges that have been experienced in implementing comprehensive crime prevention and criminal justice policies. Moreover, one of the strengths of the crime congresses is their ability to address emerging trends, in terms of both emerging crime manifestations and best practices.

The Thirteenth Crime Congress and the Doha Declaration

The Thirteenth Crime Congress, held in Doha in 2015, marked the sixtieth anniversary of the crime congresses. The Thirteenth Crime Congress took place at an important historical juncture at which issues such as the rule of law and the finalization of the Sustainable Development Goals were taking centre stage globally.

Its outcome, the Doha Declaration on Integrating Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice into the Wider United Nations Agenda to Address Social and Economic Challenges and to Promote the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, and Public Participation , set the tone for future work and gave direction not only to the work in the area of crime prevention and criminal justice for the next five years and beyond, but also to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Functions

According to General Assembly resolution 46/152, the crime congresses, as a consultative body of the programme on crime prevention and criminal justice, provide a forum for:

  • The exchange of views between States, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and individual experts representing various professions and disciplines;
  • The exchange of experiences in research, law and policy development;
  • The identification of emerging trends and issues in crime prevention and criminal justice;
  • The provision of advice and comments to the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on selected matters submitted to it by the Commission;
  • The submission of suggestions for the consideration of the Commission, regarding possible subjects for the programme of work.

Unique characteristics

The United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice are global forums that bring together the largest and most diverse gathering of policymakers, practitioners and experts in the area of crime prevention and criminal justice. They are held only once every five years and a declaration is adopted at the end of each congress.

Participation

A distinct feature of the crime congresses is the fact that participation is diverse because representatives of all States Members of the United Nations are invited to take part, along with individual experts from academia and representatives of intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, United Nations entities, specialized agencies and the Secretariat, and the media.

Participation in the crime congresses is governed by the rules of procedure for United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice.

The centres and institutes that are part of the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme network also take part, as do other entities such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This diversity ensures a broad range of perspectives and views on crime prevention and criminal justice, which are taken into consideration in the outcome document.

Observer States and intergovernmental organizations

Crime congresses are also open to the participation of States that are not Members of the United Nations and intergovernmental organizations with observer status (information on permanent observers is available here and details on intergovernmental organizations are available here). These participants have the following rights:

  • To participate as observers, without the right to vote, in the deliberations of the congresses, their committees, subcommittees and working groups and, as appropriate, in their other subsidiary organs (rule 54 of the rules of procedure).

Non-governmental organizations

Non-governmental organizations may participate in crime congresses according to the stipulations of rule 58 of the rules of procedure:

  • "Non-governmental organizations invited to the Congress may participate, without the right to vote, in the deliberations of the Congress, its committees, subcommittees and working groups".

For instance, this right entails the possibility of submitting background documents and written statements.

Participation is restricted to those organizations having consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.

Individual experts

Individual experts and consultants in the field of crime prevention and the treatment of offenders may be invited to crime congresses in their individual capacity and may participate, without the right to vote, in the deliberations, according to rule 59 of the rules of procedure. This rule also states that, in inviting such experts, the principle of equitable geographical representation should be taken into consideration.

Experts include human rights advocates, lawyers, university professors and researchers. They can prepare documentation of their own, which is presented as background documents for crime congresses.

Outcome document: the congress declaration

Crime congresses adopt a single political declaration, which contains recommendations based on discussions at the various segments of the congress. The name of the Declaration includes the name of the city where the Congress took place (for example, the Doha Declaration). Declarations are not considered treaties or resolutions. They are not legally binding.

Structure

With the support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the theme, agenda items and workshop topics of each crime congress are determined by the General Assembly, while the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice deals with a number of organizational and substantive matters.

In its resolution 56/119, the General Assembly defined some details regarding crime congresses, including duration, periodicity and the different modalities in place for participation. The structure of the work of the crime congresses is outlined as follows:

  • Preparatory meetings are held at the regional level a year in advance of the congress. At these meetings, issues for discussion are examined and recommendations are adopted for consideration during the congress.
  • Pre-congress consultations occur on the days before the actual congress, in conformity with established practice. These consultations allow for the election of the President and other officers, the adoption of the rules of procedure and the agenda, the allocation of items and the organization of work.
  • Each congress should include a high-level segment during which States should be represented at the highest possible level and should be given an opportunity to make statements on the topics of the congress. In the case of the Thirteenth Crime Congress, this segment was divided into six meetings, in which around 100 high-level officials (usually at the ministerial or ambassadorial level) made statements.
  • After the high-level segment, there are plenary meetings on agenda items and workshops on specific issues. The workshops begin before the plenary, which allows a flow of information from the workshops to the agenda items.
    • Workshops deal with the topics of the congress, maintaining an open dialogue with the participants and avoiding the reading of statements. In the workshops, panels of experts are assembled to support the discussions among those present.
    • At the high-level plenary, heads of delegations or their representatives participate in a number of thematic interactive round tables in order to further the discussion on the topics of the congress through an open dialogue.
  • Upon the invitation of the President of the congress, the declaration is formally adopted by consensus.
  • The declaration is subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly.
 

Topics for discussion

 

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