COVID-19 response in prisons, targeting corruption and crime in sports, and youth as change agents in focus at Kyoto Crime Congress

© UNIS Vienna

KYOTO/VIENNA, 10 March 2021 –  While the impact of COVID-19 has been severe throughout the world, marginalized groups of society have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. This is even more the case in congregate settings such as prisons, where physical distancing often proves impossible.

At an event examining the impact of Covid-19 in prison settings and taking account of related mitigation strategies and lessons learned, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly, in her written statement delivered by UNODC Operations Division Director Miwa Kato on her behalf, recalled the long-standing challenges of over-incarceration, overcrowding and poor prison conditions. 

While Ms. Waly commended Member States for taking measures to reduce the size of their prison populations to tackle acute pandemic threats, she added that this is also the time “to rethink how imprisonment is used, and to increase the focus on crime prevention and non-custodial measures.”

She then announced that the UN system was mobilizing its efforts around a forthcoming UN common position on incarceration, with UNODC taking the lead together with the UN Division for Peace Operations and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. With this, the UN will provide integrated assistance to Member States to rationalize the use and scope of imprisonment; improve prison conditions and strengthen prison management; and advance the rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders.

The practical application of the Nelson Mandela Rules, as well as the Bangkok Rules on women offenders and prisoners and the Tokyo Rules on non-custodial measures, Ms Waly said, “will save resources, protect human rights and reduce re-offending upon release.” She pointed out that prison and penal reform will be a priority of UNODC’s initiatives including the Office’s Strategic Vision for Africa 2020 to 2030.

In his video message, Yasonna H. Laoly, Minister of Law and Human Rights of Indonesia highlighted that as of February 2021, more than 61,600 selected prisoners had been released in in the country in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and reduce the spread of the virus in correctional institutions. 

He also emphasized that the pandemic had “encouraged us to review the prevailing system, particularly on how to use alternatives to imprisonment”, including for drug-related offenders, “in order to avoid over-capacity in our correctional institutions”.”

Phathekile Holomisa, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services of South Africa, reiterated his country’s commitment to “Continue promoting and ensuring compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules, which have gained even greater importance during COVID-19 in light of the pandemic’s enormous burden on prison/correctional services worldwide.” He invited further Member States to join the Vienna-based Group of Friends of the Nelson Mandela Rules 

Related story: Impact of COVID-19 ‘heavily felt’ by prisoners globally: UN expert

United against corruption in sport

Sport promotes values such as tolerance, respect, and teamwork. Corruption and crime in sport, however, not only undermine these values, but they also weaken its role as an enabler of sustainable development. The need to urgently tackle corruption and crime in sport in a comprehensive and coordinated manner is now widely recognized by the international community. 

At an event discussing possible initiatives to overcome the threats posed by corruption and crime to sport, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said in her pre-recorded speech that “By protecting the integrity of sport, we can harness its power, build forward from the Covid-19 crisis and deliver on the 2030 Agenda.” Together, she continued, “we help to shield sport from corruption and crime and ensure a level playing field for all.”

In his video message, Andrey Avetisyan, Ambassador-at-Large for the International Anti-Corruption Cooperation of the Russian Federation said “The international community should adopt a balanced and systematic approach under the auspices of the United Nations to promote synergies between all relevant work streams also with the participation of sports organisations with the ultimate goal to preserve the integrity of sport and its values.”

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, also highlighted the importance of international cooperation. In his pre-recorded speech he said that “no organisation in the world is immune against corruption, because corruption is a criminal activity which unfortunately affects all areas of society.” 

In sport, Mr. Bach continued, “we know that we cannot win this fight on our own. We need the support of governments. We need the support of the United Nations and relevant intergovernmental organisations to effectively tackle corruption.”

In his video message, Gianni Infantino, the President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) said that “FIFA is a proud ally of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We are truly thankful for the partnership that we established with UNODC last year to tackle one of the toughest issues facing our sport, including child safeguarding, protecting sport integrity and preventing crime.”

UNODC is supporting governments and sports organizations in tackling threats to sport by effectively implementing relevant conventions and resolutions; enhancing cooperation among law enforcement and criminal justice authorities, sport organizations and relevant stakeholders; and by conducting research and analytical work to increase knowledge, enhance education on these topics and develop evidenced-based actions.

Youth as change agents

Today, there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24, the largest generation of youth in history. Connected to each other like never before, young people contribute to the resilience of their communities, proposing innovative solutions, driving social progress and inspiring political change. They are also agents of change, mobilizing to advance the Sustainable Development Goals to improve the lives of people and the health of the planet.

At an event recognizing the important role that youth can play in their communities, UNODC Director for Treaty Affairs John Brandolino commended the Office’s initiatives focussing on youth. The Line Up Live Up initiative is strengthening youth resilience to crime and violence through sports, he said, adding that “More than 130,000 people benefitted from this work over the past few years.”

As Mr. Brandolino pointed out, the COVID-19 crisis has made the education activities developed by Education for Justice, or E4J, even more essential. Through educating primary, secondary and tertiary students on subjects related to the rule of law it is building the ability of youth to be key interlocutors. “Over 1.2 million people, youth and educators, have used E4J materials, and 35,000 individuals have received direct support”, he said. 

At the event, young parliamentarians from the global south, youth representatives and policy makers spoke about different ways in which young people could be empowered to accept greater opportunities that meaningfully engaged young people. Panellists also discussed ways to better integrate young people and youth perspectives into international policy decisions.

“As actors of tomorrow, we are invested in our future. It is therefore our responsibility to seek for our voices to be heard and to proactively shape our future”, said Tomoharu Miura, one of the youth speakers from the Japanese Youth Forum. 

Youth and young people are essential to accomplish UNODC’s mandates of enhancing the rule of law and improving human security, including justice and health priorities. And with its recently adopted Strategy, UNODC has pledged to pay special attention to the needs of youth and to leverage their enthusiasm, creativity and innovative ideas to implement the priorities of the organization.

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