22 March 2017 - ASEAN countries have been benefiting from economic and infrastructure integration, but they have recently also had to consider the evolution of related challenges including the illegal movement and trafficking of persons, goods, and capital between countries. It is also apparent that transnational organized crime groups have been able to capitalize on regional connectivity and trade flows, while many justice agencies and authorities remain reactive and not well set-up to cooperate effectively across borders.
In this context, senior ASEAN region officials and diplomatic partners have gathered for a high-level conference in Bangkok to discuss how to improve legal and justice cooperation to address transnational crime and security challenges.
The Regional Conference on ASEAN Cross-Border Criminal Justice Cooperation follows recent commitments to address transnational issues within the framework of the ASEAN Vision 2025, and regional frameworks for cooperation on different forms of crime including the regional Mekong Memorandum of Understanding.
UNODC's Goodwill Ambassador for the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia, Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol of Thailand, opened the conference along with the US Ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, the Secretary General of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Isra Sunthornvut, and UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas - with each highlighting the importance of justice cooperation as the region integrates.
"Regional integration has brought economic benefits, but security and crime challenges have also been changing and states now have to work together more and more frequently and in ways they have not had to in the past," said Mr. Douglas. "We expect the discussions this week will lead to a deeper understanding of some of the transnational issues being faced, but also policy and institutional needs that we can then help address through our Regional Programme for Southeast Asia," he added.
"Common justice challenges are bringing us closer together by necessity," stated Her Royal Highness Mahidol of Thailand. "Our efforts to improve how we cooperate and work together to address transnational organized crimes and terrorism will strengthen the foundation for the rule of law here in the region, and support sustainable development which is our ultimate goal. As UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, I look forward to working with you to build a resilient ASEAN, in-line with the ASEAN Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda," she highlighted.
Mutual legal assistance for joint investigations of transnational crime, extradition and asset recovery has been understood and applied in different ways by different ASEAN countries, in part because legal systems and capacities vary significantly in the region. At the same time, all countries of the region have signed the ASEAN Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the UN Convention against Corruption, and they are working to comply with UN Security Council resolutions requiring mutual legal assistance.
Unfortunately, despite commitments to regional and international treaties and resolutions, justice cooperation in the ASEAN region has largely taken place on an ad-hoc and sometimes informal basis leading to mixed results. Engagement with justice authorities from outside Southeast Asia is also often inconsistent - and in some cases minimal or not happening - leaving the region open to possible exploitation and criticism.
In this regard, UNODC assists Member States in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region to be able to more effectively cooperate on cross-border criminal justice issues, working with regional and national partners.