States strengthen legal regimes against crime and corruption

6 October 2008 - The annual United Nations treaty event to promote universal ratification of more than 500 global legal instruments took place last week. More than 40 Member States signed or deposited instruments of ratification of 80 separate conventions and protocols.

This year's event - the tenth of its kind - was held on the sidelines of the General Assembly's General Debate at UN Headquarters in New York. The event saw new legal commitments by heads of State and foreign ministers, including for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), its three protocols, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption. UNODC is the guardian of these legal instruments.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati joined Burundi in ratifying the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. UNODC provides assistance to States in the legal and related aspects of counter-terrorism, especially for ratifying and implementing the universal legal instruments against terrorism.

These important developments strengthen international law. "Drugs, crime and terrorism are problems that do not respect national borders. International cooperation empowered by treaty arrangements are essential to contain those threats," said John Sandage, Chief of UNODC's Treaty and Legal Assistance Branch.

Belgium, Malaysia and Tunisia ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption, increasing the total of States parties to 126 (out of 192 UN Member states). This is a remarkable achievement for a Convention that only came into force in December 2005.  

The Bahamas actively agreed to be bound by four treaties, ratifying UNTOC (along with Paraguay), and two additional protocols on human trafficking and migrant smuggling, while also acceding to the third protocol on the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms. Also known as the Palermo Convention, UNTOC now boasts 147 States parties, only five years after it came into force. Its trafficking protocol now has 124 States parties and the migrants protocol, 116.

However, with 77 States parties, there is a "forgotten" protocol of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The Firearms Protocol aims to curb the illegal trafficking of the nearly one billion guns which are in circulation around the world. Gun violence disproportionately affects the world's most poor and vulnerable; 1000 people die every day from firearms, an unacceptably high figure.

Member States will hold a conference of the States parties to UNTOC in Vienna this month. States that ratify this instrument commit themselves to fight transnational organized crime, through creating domestic criminal offences (participation in an organized criminal group, money-laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice); adopting measures to facilitate extradition, mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation; and supporting the provision of training and technical assistance to national authorities. This month's Conference of States parties will also evaluate countries' compliance with their treaty obligations.

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and justice was an important theme throughout the treaty event. "UNODC helps States cooperate in fighting the scourge of drugs, crime and terrorism, and to build the rule of law; indispensable to achieve a just society," said Mr. Sandage. "We can help achieve the Millennium Development Goals when States are able to defend their citizens and to enforce the law."