Bangkok, 24 February 2023 – Concealed in waste crisis, transnational organized criminal groups profited from environmental regulations loopholes and challenges in law enforcement cooperation to target receiving countries in Southeast Asia. According to INTERPOL, the proceeds of pollution offences could soar up to USD 58 million and pollution crime, including waste crime, are merged with legitimate businesses. Waste crime is therefore difficult to trace, generating high profit with minimal risk and punishment.
The increasing involvement of organized criminal groups in waste trafficking calls for a strong criminal justice response. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) has become a crucial instrument in the fight against waste trafficking. The UNTOC's significance in the fight against illegal waste trade lies in its ability to provide a legal and policy framework for international cooperation. The convention's provisions can be used to identify and prosecute waste traffickers and enforce regulations to prevent waste trafficking.
It is in this spirit that UNODC has developed a legislative guide on combating waste trafficking. The guide is intended to support states in enacting or strengthening domestic legislation against waste trafficking. It focuses on the implementation of the UNTOC and provides national lawmakers with concrete model provisions, national examples and legislative guidance.
Following its publication in 2022, UNODC has disseminated the guide in various regions and on 24 February, UNODC organized a hybrid launch event for Southeast Asia under the Unwaste project, gathering law enforcement, regulatory, and criminal justice officials from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, alongside regional and international partners. During the launch, UNODC introduced the legislative guide emphasizing on the UNTOC elements applicable to waste trafficking and how countries in the region can use it in practice.
In a panel discussion, experts from the Office of the Attorney General of Thailand, the Pollution Control Department of Thailand, French Customs, Directorate General of Environmental and Forestry Law Enforcement of Indonesia examined in detail the legislative challenges they face and suggested possible improvements on waste trafficking prosecution and cross-border cooperation.
In the case study of e-waste found in warehouses and landfills in Thailand, "Only security guards and a warehouse owner were prosecuted with a very small punishment. And waste disposal became a burden to local government and communities." says Mr. Teerat Limpayaraya, Public Prosecutor in Thailand’s Attorney General’s Office, who highlighted that Thailand ratified the UNTOC and its protocols. He encouraged consideration of ancillary offences associated with waste crime e.g., anti-money laundering and anti-corruption act in addition to cross-agency joint investigation.
“I would like to assure Southeast Asian colleagues here that we have the same concerns and same problems [in Europe]" and "if we don't share information [on illegal waste], we cannot work efficiently to identify the company and the shipment" said Mr. Patrick Mihoub, French Customs Attaché for Southeast Asia. He stressed that inter-regional intelligence exchange is more crucial than ever to put an end to criminals profiting from waste pollution in Southeast Asia.
This event was also an opportunity to discuss the activities of the Unwaste project in the region. The Unwaste project aims to better understand legal and illegal waste flows between Southeast Asia and the European Union, with an additional focus on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on medical and hazardous waste movements. The project also promotes national dialogues and facilitates EU-ASEAN Member States partnerships to strengthen policies, legislation, and law enforcement cooperation in combating waste trafficking.
The UNODC legislative guide on combating waste trafficking was developed by UNODC Global Programme on Implementing the Organized Crime Convention with the financial support of the Government of France. Unwaste is implemented by the UNODC Environment Team in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme, and benefits from the financial support of the European Union.