Transnational Organised Crime: A Global Threat

Transnational organized crime is considered to be a changing and flexible phenomenon. While on one hand globalization has triggered easier and faster communication, movement of finances and international travel, it has also created opportunities for criminal groups to flourish, diversify and expand their activities. Organized crime today affects all States, whether as countries of supply, transit or demand. As criminal networks span the globe, efforts to combat them must likewise cross borders so as to ensure that organized crime networks do not simply divert their activities to countries or regions where weak cooperation means weak criminal justice responses.


UNODC's Response: Strengthening Systems

UNODC promotes effective responses to transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking in South Asia by facilitating the implementation of the relevant United Nations conventions at normative and operational levels. Most Member States in the region are parties to the main international instruments on organized crime and illicit trafficking but lack the capacity of its meaningful implementation. UNODC intends to support Member States in enhancing the capacities of their law enforcement entities to better prevent and address transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking of persons, counterfeits and goods.

UNODC works closely with global programme experts to build national, regional and transnational initiatives to confront organized crime. Technical capacity building and technical assistance are geared towards all aspects of strengthening the rule of law, working with law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, judges and other related actors in countries and across regions where the convergence of drugs, trafficking in firearms, crime, corruption and terrorism threatens stability and security. Working with Member States in South Asia, UNODC seeks to foster good governance, robust criminal justice systems, security sector reform and, indirectly, socio-economic development through strengthening capacity to confront and defeat transnational organized crime. The Office supports Member States in building their capacities to prosecute organized crime by providing legal and technical assistance: to encourage crime prevention strategies, investigation and prosecution, as well as training of staff of the law enforcement agencies, prosecutorial offices, financial intelligence units and other related officials, promote and strengthen international cooperation and coordination between law enforcement, judicial practitioners and other relevant actors through a variety of mechanisms, including through regional and inter-region networks and the development of software tools and databases to share information. 

Initiatives include support for the proper collection and analysis of criminal intelligence, including new modalities of international cooperation; and provide a range of tools and resources to assist Member States in their efforts to prevent and combat organized crime, helping relevant officials to more effectively and efficiently do their work, with better understanding of the issues in light of international good practice and applicable human rights standards. International cooperation in criminal matters for mutual legal assistance (MLA), extradition and confiscation of proceeds of crime is an important tool for prosecutions for all types of organized and serious crime when effectively and efficiently undertaken. UNODC provides technical assistance in this area, including through the establishment of regional networks aimed at supporting more effective prosecutions, each tailored to the specific needs of the region.


Combating Organised Crime: UNODC at the Forefront

Undertaking a Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment (TOCTA):

In light of the challenges and threats mentioned earlier in the document and with an aim to generate evidence on transnational organised crime, UNODC aims to undertake a TOCTA for South Asia. Drawing on official statistics and relevant literature (where available), in addition to valuable input and anecdotal evidence from stakeholders and local, regional and global experts, the primary aims of this threat assessment will be to:

(i) Outline the main transnational organized crimes, their scale, trends and underlying mechanisms (i.e., who, how, what, where, when) impacting Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka;

(ii) Identify key knowledge, data and resource gaps that preclude the detection and monitoring of various illegal markets impacting the South Asia region; and

(iii) Formulate recommendations to enhance the quality, accuracy, reliability, representation, timeliness and quantity of data collected to augment the capacity of South Asian countries to detect, monitor and prevent transnational organized crimes.

The TOCTA will be undertaken under the guidance and expertise of the Research and Analysis Branch of UNODC.

Strengthening Criminal Intelligence Sharing: 

Under the Regional Programme, UNODC aims to reinvigorate the initiative to develop the South Asian Regional (Criminal) Intelligence and Coordination Centre on Transnational Organized Crime (SARICC-TOC), which is aimed to establish a mechanism for regional information sharing and coordination, following previously established models and best practices of UNODC. This will be implemented in close cooperation and substantive guidance of the Organized Crime Branch/Implementation Support Section/Division of Treaty Affairs, Vienna. Steps to establish the SARICC network were first taken in 2015 through holding of two regional expert group meetings followed by a high-level meeting of senior interlocutors in November 2017 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The renewed strategy for SARICC includes a 'fresh' engagement with the governments of the region at the highest levels. ROSA foresees SARICC as a basis for enhanced cooperation, improved communication, coordination and information sharing between law enforcement agencies of South Asia.


UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP) and CCP Air Cargo Programme:

Containers form an integral part of the international trade supply chain. Therefore, there is an urgent need to minimize the risk of containers being exploited and used for illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other forms of black-market activity.

Both global initiatives the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme and the CCP Air Cargo Programme assist Governments to establish sustainable enforcement structures in selected sea ports, (container) dry ports and airports by creating specialized trained Units. The CCP, a joint initiative of UNODC and the World Customs Organization (WCO) will set up additional Port Control Units (PCUs) and Air Cargo Control Units (ACCUs) in South Asia and continue building strategic alliances between Customs, police, trade and other relevant bodies to prevent criminal organizations from abusing legitimate commercial trade. At the global level, the CCP supports enhanced collection, standardization and reporting of data on container crime for use in strategic analysis and information-sharing.  Results of the CCP 'Fishnet' initiative, implemented in 2017 in the region and focussing on the fight against transnational crime in illegal fishing, document fraud, drug trafficking and money laundering, will be followed up in the wake of mentoring visits.

Global Firearms Programme (GFP)

The illicit trafficking and misuse of firearms is intrinsically linked to criminal organizations and networks: as facilitators of violent crimes, as tools to perpetrate power, and as lucrative trafficking commodities, that fuels armed conflicts, crime and insecurity. Oftentimes, different forms of criminality are intertwined, such as human, firearms and drugs trafficking. Closely linked is also the challenges relating to floating armouries.

UNODC GFP provides support to Member States, upon request, for legislative development, for strengthening the criminal justice systems to detect, investigate and prosecute firearms offences, facilitates international cooperation and information exchanges, and provides technical support for implementation of preventive and control measures related to marking, record-keeping, seizure, collection and disposal of firearms.

In 2016-2017 the Global Firearms Programme received several requests for assistance from countries in Asia to support activities at national and regional levels. India requested assistance to address the problem of floating armouries on high sea. Sri Lanka approached UNODC and requested support for the accession to the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol). UNODC will assist countries from South Asia in their efforts to adhere to and implement the UN Firearms Protocol.



Maritime Crime Programme

South Asia is surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the world's third largest body of water which covers about one fifth of the world's total ocean area, providing critical sea routes that connect the Middle East, Africa and South Asia with the Asian continent to the east and Europe to the west. Acts of piracy in the region threaten maritime security by endangering, in particular, the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts may result in the loss of life, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, significant disruptions to commerce and navigation, financial losses to ship owners, increased insurance premiums and security costs, increased costs to consumers and producers, and damage to the marine environment.

Given the importance of the Indian Ocean as the critical maritime space for sea lanes of communication between east and west, attention needs to be focused on better addressing these issues and assert rule of law at sea. The jurisdictional authorities of a country over the high seas is prescribed by the Law of the Sea Convention and, as new issues emerge, littoral states need to define solutions within the framework of international maritime law. The trafficking of Afghan opiates along the "Southern Route" from the Makran Coast to the East African coast and South Asia has increased significantly. The key attraction of the southern route for narcotics trafficking is the lack of enforcement capacity on the high seas.

Due to the unique nature of the high seas--falling outside the jurisdiction of any single State, but within the collective responsibility of all--a coordinated and comprehensive approach must be taken to tackle crimes both occurring at sea and being carried out through the use of the maritime domain.  This includes interrupting criminal activities at sea, strengthening domestic maritime law-enforcement capacity, and addressing the root causes of maritime crime on land.   

The opening of a programme office in Sri Lanka in 2017 under the Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP), opened new vistas for programming in South Asia. Further expansion of the maritime crime programme in Sri Lanka from 2018 would be instrumental in widening South Asia responses to countering maritime crime. The MCP in Sri Lanka will be a catalyst to expand the maritime crime programme activities, especially for strengthening the responses of the marine police, island security and detection capabilities in countries of the region.  Counter-piracy initiatives will be undertaken in close consultation with the UNODC anti-piracy programme based in Kenya. The South Asian countries vulnerable to piracy, in particular the Maldives and Sri Lanka, can be provided with legal advice for drafting/improving maritime laws and technical assistance for confronting the challenges of piracy.

Border management

Under the new regional framework, border control mechanisms will be strengthened to address and counter illicit trafficking including human trafficking and drug trafficking at the borders of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. UNODC seeks to assist countries in strengthening individual capacities and regional and inter-regional cooperation in border management and information exchange by using alert mechanisms and, where possible, regional intelligence and information sharing through SARICC-TOC. UNODC's positive experience gained in recent years in South East Asia of Border Liaison Offices (BLOs) will also be extended to South Asia with the creation of a BLO mechanism at the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar. This will be done closely in cooperation with the UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia.

Further, assistance can be made available towards more effective controls and information exchange over travel and identity documents and other practices, gradually moving towards joint investigation capabilities. The focus areas include: (i) proper and effective control in the region of travel and identity documents (including timely exchange of information at regional level); (ii) enhancement and sharing of criminal intelligence at national/regional level able to prepare and use serious organized crime threats assessments; (iii) training of staff/officials to operate within anti-transnational organised crime units and improve operational ability to use special investigative techniques.




As cybercrime is transnational in character, inconsistency of laws and regulations across country borders make it especially difficult for countries to cooperate when investigating cybercrime. The scale of cybercrime makes it critical for governments to have a robust cyber security ecosystem in place to reduce threats and enhance confidence in using electronic communications and services. However, there is still an evident gap between countries of the region in terms of awareness, understanding, knowledge and finally capacity to deploy the proper strategies, capabilities and programmes to ensure a safe and appropriate use of ICTs as enablers for economic development. According to the Cyber Security Index (2017) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives are in the 'initiating stage' wherein they have started to make commitments to cyber security; Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka are in the 'maturing stage' and have developed complex commitments and engage in cyber security programmes and initiatives.

Online radicalization is one of the emerging problems being faced by sovereign nations today. Of late, the use of the internet to promote, propagate and implement radicalized thought processes is constantly increasing. The advent of online radicalization has brought to the forefront, various complicated legal, policy and regulatory issues which need to be addressed around the world. Building capacity to enable easier, quicker, more effective cooperation is a vitally important countermeasure.

As digital technologies become more accessible, countering cybercrime must become a normal part of the crime prevention narrative. Special areas of focus revolve around promoting cyber safety amongst women, children and youth, preventing online sexual exploitation, darknet market awareness and countering the misuse of cryptocurrencies. The Regional Office for South Asia aims to capitalize on the rich technical expertise available in India as well as the global knowledge products and international best practices developed and supported by UNODC during 2017 and beyond. Adequate expertise from UNODC's global programme will be tapped for this purpose.

The expertise and knowledge base of UNODC with respect to cybercrime will focus on ensuring sustainable and long-term capacity building, conducting needs analysis within the region, identifying key national priorities for action, assisting Member States in legislative drafting and adoption of adequate legislation based on their specific demands; building operational and institutional capacity of law enforcement and judicial bodies; mobilizing and raising awareness among communities and civil society. The primary partner institutions would be the police and criminal justice agencies from the region.


Wildlife, forest and fisheries crime (WLFC)

In close cooperation with the global programme for WLFC, more programming opportunities is being explored for South Asia. With regard to wildlife, forest and fisheries crime, UNODC provides assistance in strengthening the capacity of Governments to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate crimes against protected species of wild flora and fauna, complementing other international legal frameworks dealing with environmental protection.

Strengthening activities under SAWEN (South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network) is being explored. UNODC global programme for WLFC will also deliver a series of regional workshops in cooperation with the US Department of Justice for prosecutors and investigators on effective tools to increase investigative capacity and strengthen regional cooperation. Further, a more comprehensive in-country assistance will be provided in Nepal in support of the Toolkit recommendations.

With respect to fisheries crime, targeted activities will be implemented in Sri Lanka and possibly the Maldives in 2018-2019.

Anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism

Combating terrorist financing is emerging as an extremely important area globally and in particular for developing countries of South Asia. Terrorists constantly adapt how and where they move their funds to circumvent safeguards that countries have put in place.  Though the issue of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) is not a new phenomenon, the recent scale of the issue in relation to the conflict in Syria and Iraq is disturbing. FTFs are now considered one of the main forms of material support to terrorist groups. Cash is still widely used in the criminal economy. The physical transportation of cash across international borders is one of the oldest forms of money laundering (ML) and is still widely used today - criminals and terrorists remove their illicit assets from the banking system as cash, transport it to another country and then spend it or reintroduce it into the banking system. Simultaneously, rapidly developing new technologies have introduced a widening variety of new terrorist financing (TF) vulnerabilities. The broad reach and anonymity associated with social media and new payment methods makes these more and more attractive tools for terrorists and terrorist organisations to use in their financial activities.

One of the key requirements of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Recommendations for countries is to identify, assess and understand the money laundering and terrorist financing risks that they are exposed to. Once these risks are properly understood, countries will be able to implement measures that mitigate these risks.  Hence, it is very important to raise awareness with countries and financial institutions on the new terrorist financing sources and the methods that terrorist used to manage their assets.  Improving understanding on how a terrorist organisation raises, moves and uses its funds is critical to the choking of the funds and to disrupting their atrocities.

UNODC assists Member States in a variety of ways to develop sound anti-money laundering and countering of terrorism financing (AML/CFT) regimes. This includes developing or strengthening legislation to criminalize the laundering of the proceeds of crime and to comply with other FATF standards, training of officials, and increasing the ability to identify and interdict cross-border transportation of illegal cash or other negotiable instruments. While all South Asia countries have established financial intelligence units (FIUs), improving their capacities and strengthening of regional cooperation and coordination remains a leading concern. 


For more details, connect with us on:

Bangladesh: Mr. Shah Mohammad Naheeaan, shah.naheeaan[at[  

Bhutan:  Ms. Tandin Wangmo, tandin.wangmo[at]

India/Regional:  Ms. Deepika Naruka, deepika.naruka[at] 

Maldives: Mr. Enrico Bonisegna, enrico.bonisegna[at]

Nepal: Ms. Reena Pathak, reena.pathak[at]

Sri Lanka: Ms. Anusha Munasinghe, anusha.munasinghe[at]

Communications/Partnerships: Mr. Samarth Pathak, samarth.pathak[at]