World criminal justice system found wanting, says congress secretary-general, as high-level segment continues

Photo: UNIS18 April 2010 - The Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice had put the world's criminal justice system on trial, but the case could be dismissed for lack of evidence, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Director-General of the Organization's Vienna Office, said today, as the event's high-level segment continued in Salvador, Brazil.

"Unlike in other domains where the United Nations is the world's best information provider, we don't have the definitions, data and logical framework to report on crime trends, understand its causes and measure its size," said Mr. Costa, the Congress Secretary-General. "Unable to assess progress, we cannot tell you whether your policies are succeeding or not."

Describing the verdict on the criminal justice system as "harsh", he said many cities were unable to provide public order, as police came under fire from well-equipped, well-connected criminals who hired the world's best lawyers to keep them out of jail. Overcrowded prisons had become "incubators of infections and universities of crime", and money-laundering had corrupted entire economic sectors. Only the material costs and suffering of crime were seen, said Mr. Costa, adding that global governance had failed to keep pace with economic globalization, allowing international mafias to prosper.

He said organized crime -- from drug-trafficking in West Asia, to the smuggling of migrants and arms in Europe and North America, to piracy in the Horn of Africa -- was big business, racking up profits equivalent to the national incomes of many countries and rivalling those of the world's largest corporations. It created instability, hampered investment and led to a vicious cycle of conflict, mass poverty and environmental deterioration, he said, pointing to the correlation between weak rule of law and weak socio-economic performance. "We cannot just throw money and Blue Helmets at crisis situations; it is the pursuit of justice that will create the conditions for security and development," he said. "The world is expecting your guidance: don't let down 'We, the peoples…."

A consensus must emerge in Salvador on the need to review and systematically update all criminal justice standards and norms, he emphasized, urging the Congress to call for a mechanism to review implementation of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime so that the 2015 Congress could assess progress on combating corruption, identifying areas of improvement. Previous congresses had expressed concern over the economic might and firepower of organized crime, but failed to agree on mechanisms for measuring progress and identifying assistance needs, he said.

Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, illustrated the interdependency between organized crime and violators of international humanitarian law by describing the Balkan wars that had torn the former Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s. The late President Slobodan Milošević and those under his influence had misappropriated millions of dollars, while organized criminals had helped political elites to further their ethnic cleansing goals, smuggle in weapons and oil, and plunder civilian property.

He went on to state that conflicts were sometimes artificially sustained to ensure that armed groups and criminal gangs benefited from illegal activities. That had been the case in Colombia, where armed groups had cooperated with cocaine traffickers; in Afghanistan, where the Taliban worked with heroin smugglers traffickers; and in West and Central Africa, where rebel fighters and organized criminals worked together to trade illegally in natural resources. After the end of armed conflict, criminals often continued to enjoy State protection, he said, noting that many well-trained, well-armed and well-resourced members of Mr. Milošević's special units had joined organized criminal networks and grown in status.

In a global society, law enforcement agencies must work together to confront international crimes through an integrated, coordinated and systematic approach, he said, stressing that improved inter-State cooperation, information sharing and mutual legal assistance were essential to achieving that goal. Such steps were likely to help identify and investigate dangerous individuals and groups, and subsequently to containing their criminal activities. Institutions that investigated, prosecuted and adjudicated violations of international humanitarian law would uncover information and evidence, which must be shared with appropriate prosecutorial agencies, he said.

Delegates described their national efforts to tackle crime head on, with Kenya's Assistant Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs pointing out that the country was currently handling 13 piracy cases involving 118 accused -- the highest number in the world. However, its personnel were overstretched, as the Government took on a plethora of criminal justice issues, including the handling of children in conflict with the law.

Thailand's Permanent Secretary for Justice called for a comprehensive, holistic approach to promoting women's rights and gender sensitivity in the administration of justice. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were a highly authoritative guide for Member States, but they lacked precise provisions to address female prisoners' specific needs and vulnerability, he said. "It is high time for the Crime Congress to acknowledge the human rights and dignity of these women and respond to their needs more adequately."

Italy's Under-Secretary of State for Justice said his country was working to bring down the Mafia by squashing its financial activities and economic profits rather than focusing on arrest, which was often less effective and easily tolerated as a "business risk". To do that, Italy had extended the power to seize the illicit assets of Mafia members and their families; minimize the organization's ability to conceal assets; and establish responsibility for legal money-laundering. From June 2008 to March 2010, a Government entity had seized cash, as well as movable and immovable property from the Mafia worth €8.9 billion, he said.

The President of the Supreme Court of Sao Tome and Principe pointed to national legislative measures to address trafficking in persons and drugs, including reforms to the Penal Code and criminal justice processes, as well as a new anti-money-laundering law. But he lamented the Government's lack of qualified personnel to implement new laws, noting that its dependence on foreign aid thwarted progress. Effective measures were needed, but the country could not implement them on its own, he said.

Also speaking today were Government Ministers and other senior officials from the Czech Republic, Iran, Egypt, Cameroon, Romania, Ghana, Malaysia, Canada, Peru, Oman, Namibia and Angola.

The Congress also heard from the representatives of Slovakia, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, India, Turkey and Israel.

Jean-Paul Laborde, Special Adviser and Head of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force also addressed the Congress.

Speaking on behalf of non-governmental organizations was a representative of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

The Crime Congress will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 19 April, to conclude its high-level segment.

Speech of Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - "No Security or Development Without Justice"

Summary of all speeches in the second day of the high-level segment

For further information:

To download the press kit and other information (also in Portuguese), visit:
For live webcast:

All stories