Penang, Malaysia. 13 December 2023 - The Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) is making significant strides in tackling transnational organized crime despite many challenges enabled by corruption. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) serve as valuable guides for ASEAN nations to strengthen their legal frameworks, enhance enforcement mechanisms, and foster international and regional collaboration.
The role of civil society, academia and the private sector is vital in supporting States parties to both conventions in the implementation of their commitments, providing unique insights and perspectives from grass root communities.
To foster this collaboration and partnership between States parties and non-governmental stakeholders, UNODC contributed to the “ASEAN for Good Governance: addressing cross border corruption and transnational crime” conference held in Penang, Malaysia on 5-6 December. The two-day conference brought together some 30 participants from the ASEAN region + India and Timor-Leste, and featured presentations of studies conducted by the C4 NGO on illicit trade in tobacco products, and on the recruitment of migrant workers that traverses ASEAN borders, looking at the role corruption plays in facilitating these crimes. It was an opportunity for CSOs networking, advocacy, and strategy discussions, and served as a platform to unite, share experiences, and chart a collective course towards addressing the issue of cross-border corruption and its relation to organized crime.
As part of the Civil Society Unit’s SE4U project, a training targeting Asian non-governmental stakeholders was organised during the conference. The training helped to increase the engagement with and between Asian civil society organizations in the context of the UNTOC implementation, and to provide them with more tools for their engagement in the fight against organized crime. The training helped to bridge the gap between organizations working on corruption and those working on organized crime, allowing for cross-fertilization and synergies. It was the first time such meeting has been held by the UNODC Civil Society Unit in the region.
The training also allowed participants to identify and discuss the main challenges in their countries related to the fight against transnational organized crime, and the opportunities and strategies to address those challenges through collaboration with governments. Through interactive exercises participants discussed the causes, stakeholders involved, and strategic opportunities that civil society could implement in collaboration with ASEAN Member States to combat organized crime.
Some of the initiatives identified by participants which will serve as a roadmap to ignite action on these matters included the organization of multi-stakeholder dialogues at the community, national and regional level; supporting governments in enacting reforms; bringing grassroot information to governments and UNODC; and mobilizing civil society to address organized crime issues. Participants also identified that there is a need to continue these types of dialogues and to bring stakeholders together, to allow their support to governments in their strategies against organized crime and corruption.
To facilitate a coordinated engagement of non-governmental stakeholders from the region in supporting ASEAN governments to fight organized crime in the context of the implementation and review of UNTOC, participants discussed and agreed to start the process of establishing the Asian Civil Society Regional Network for UNTOC Implementation (NET4U), following the successful establishment of such networks in Africa and the Americas. The network would serve as a coordination mechanism between the governments and non-governmental stakeholders in fighting organized crime.
Looking at national challenges and local actions, participants also expressed the importance of establishing National Civil Society Alliances, which would allow for contributions of civil society to the implementation and review of UNTOC at national level.
When implemented, the Civil Society Regional Networks and National Alliances will serve as avenues for States parties to UNTOC to advance the implementation of the Convention in a comprehensive matter, and in accordance with the resolution 9/1 which established the Review Mechanism.