Emerging Crimes

Cybercrime I Identity-related crime I Trafficking in cultural property I Environmental crime I Piracy I Organ trafficking

Transnational organized crime groups seek to exploit legitimate activities for criminal purposes. The ways in which they are reaping profit are becoming more creative. As organized crime groups join ever more complex networks spanning the globe, the crimes become increasingly transnational and the types of crime they are able to commit become diversified. New threats to global security are emerging, meaning that people can fall victim to organized crime in an increasing number of ways, in an increasing number of places.

In 2010, the fifth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime identified cybercrime, identity-related crimes, trafficking in cultural property, environmental crime, piracy, organ trafficking, and fraudulent medicine as new and emerging crimes of concern. The emergence of these new crime types gives rise to the need for law enforcement response to adapt its efforts and capacities accordingly.


Cybercrime, ©iStockphoto.com/Cimmerian

Cybercrime is an emerging form of transnational crime. The complex nature of the crime as one that takes place in the borderless realm of cyberspace is compounded by the increasing involvement of organized crime groups. Perpetrators of cybercrime and their victims can be located different regions, and its effects can ripple through societies around the world, highlighting the need to mount an urgent, dynamic and international response.



UNODC response

UNODC promotes long-term and sustainable capacity building in the fight against cybercrime through supporting national structures and action. Specifically, UNODC draws upon its specialized expertise on criminal justice systems response to provide technical assistance in capacity building, prevention and awareness raising, international cooperation, and data collection, research and analysis on cybercrime. 

The translation of the Comprehensive Study on Cybercrime was facilitated by the extrabudgetary contribution of the Chinese Government.

Identity-related crime

Identity related crime, ©iStockphoto.com/peepo

All over the world, societies are increasingly reliant on identification information. Information about members of societies, stored as data, is used for banking, shopping, travelling and collecting social assistance. Increasingly such information also includes biometrics and DNA profiles. The more that public and private sectors become computerized, the more avenues are available for organized criminals to exploit the vulnerabilities of those systems to commit identity-related crime. Identity-related crime generates significant profits for criminals each year, with far-reaching impact not only on economies and online commerce, but also on individuals who fall victim to it.

Where identify information is obtained by criminals, it can be abused to launder money, to commit fraud and to enable illicit activity and irregular movement for organized crime purposes include human trafficking, migrant smuggling and even terrorism. Millions of dollars can be stolen using false identification either in highly sophisticated single events, or as millions of smaller incidents. In the hands of unscrupulous criminal actors these criminal profits can be used to commit further crime.

UNODC response

UNODC has a leading role to play in mobilizing the response of the international community and supporting international debate on identity-related crimes:

Trafficking in cultural property

"Azerbaijan customs services: guarding cultural heritage." Exhibition by the Government of Azerbaijan. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Nineteenth session (Vienna, 17-19 May 2010).

Cultural property is part of the common heritage of humankind. It is so unique and important a testimony of the evolution and identity of peoples, that the importance of protecting it has been stressed in several international instruments.

Organized criminal groups are increasingly involved in trafficking in cultural property, both through legitimate markets, such as auctions and through the Internet, and in underground illicit markets. Trafficking in cultural property is also becoming an important source for the laundering of the proceeds of crime, and has been recently identified as a possible source of financing for terrorist groups.

Trafficking in cultural property involves several acts that may ultimately result in the loss, destruction, removal or theft of irreplaceable items. While criminals make significant profits from this illicit trafficking, humankind is denied access to archaeological information and to artefacts of its shared heritage. For instance, many relics and monuments from past generations remain buried underground. Where ancient artefacts are stolen and the sites in which they were hidden are destroyed through looting, archaeologists are unable to gather knowledge about the past. A substantial amount of looting happens around the world, and yet so far the efforts to combat trafficking in cultural property have not been in proportion to the gravity and extent of this criminal manifestation.


UNODC response

Increased recognition of the transnational criminal elements involved in the trafficking of cultural property brings to the fore the role of UNODC in increasing the international crime prevention and criminal justice response to this crime.

UNODC works to harness the potential of the United Nations Convention against Organized Crime to address serious crimes relating to trafficking in cultural property when committed by organized crime groups. Many of the provisions of the Convention are relevant to the transnational crime of trafficking in cultural property, and, in turn, many of its provisions empower States parties to rally against transnational criminals to protect their common cultural heritage. Furthermore, the adoption by the General Assembly of the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences has offered to the international community a new tool to review and strengthen its responses to this form of crime.


Environmental crime

Logs ready for the saw mills in Indonesia. Timber logged illegally is often mixed with logs from legal forest concessions.Photo: UNODC / Ajit JoyIn some parts of the world, large-scale poaching and illegal logging pose a major threat to wildlife and forests. Today, 50% of the world's species are facing the fastest man-made mass extinction.

Given the diversity of locations where poaching, harvesting, transit, purchase, and consumption of wildlife occurs, illicit trafficking in endangered species is a transnational crime. Countries can be affected either at source, transit or destination points. Wildlife crime threatens national security and may endanger human and domestic livestock health through the spread of virulent diseases. Trafficking in natural resources such as timber generates billions of dollars in criminal revenues annually and contributes to deforestation, loss of species and their habitats, and contributes to climate change and rural poverty.

Organized criminal syndicates are moving poached or illegally harvested wildlife with the help of the same sophisticated techniques and networks used for illicit trafficking in persons, weapons, and drugs and other contraband. There are many challenges posed by the poaching and illicit trafficking of wildlife including the involvement of number of related crimes such as fraud, counterfeiting, money-laundering, violence and corruption.

UNODC response

Against the backdrop of criminal threats to the environment, UNODC assists Governments to fight corruption, strengthen law enforcement and support sustainable livelihoods. These three interlinked elements are crucial to protecting the invaluable natural resources that ensure long term, sustainable growth. For more information see: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/wildlife-and-forest-crime/index.html.


Pirate boat, intercepted off the Horn of AfricaPiracy off the Horn of Africa has become an increasingly serious problem over the last years. The lack of rule of law in Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since 1991, has provoked a surge of hijackings and piracy in the region.

Recent years have seen an increased number of attacks, with pirates becoming more organized and more aggressive as they arm themselves with a higher grade of weapons. The methods of pirates, with the use of 'mother ships' on which they can be based, allow them to hijack larger vessels over bigger distances, hundreds of kilometers off the coast. Piracy is increasingly linked to other forms of organized crime, given the sophisticated intelligence collection networks and systematic corruption of local officials. Meanwhile, piracy is a key source of income for many communities, who receive funds from ransoms that their own governments fail to provide.

Beyond the immediate impact on victims of pirate attacks, there are a number of serious indirect consequences of this organized crime. Piracy is not only fuelled by lack of governance, but in turn perpetuates lack of security, economic disempowerment and undermines rule of law, not only in Somalia but now also regionally and globally.

Humanitarian aid deliveries to Somalia are disrupted and shipping insurance premiums increase to near-prohibitive levels, which, in turn, interfere with trade and damage economies, and increase the possibility of environmental disasters. The international community has recognized that what happens within the jurisdictions of failed States has repercussions far beyond its borders, highlighting both the transnationality of piracy and the need for States to cooperate to ensure stability, development and an effective criminal justice system in Somalia. In the meantime, assistance in the investigation and prosecution of suspected pirates is critical in order to avoid these crimes being treated with impunity.

UNODC response

UNODC is working with affected States to strengthen their capacity to prevent, combat and prosecute piracy. Its focus is on strengthening trials and imprisonment capacities so that criminal actors can be sustainably removed from criminal networks. Piracy feeds off the instability, weak governance and poverty that plague Somalia. By strengthening the rule of law to combat piracy, UNODC supports Somalia to rebuild a more just and stable society for all its citizens. For more information see: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/piracy/index.html?ref=menuside.

Organ trafficking

Organ Trafficking, ©iStockphoto.com/ucharThe transplantation of healthy organs into persons whose own organs have failed, improves and saves thousands of lives every year. But demand for organs has outstripped supply, creating an underground market for illicitly obtained organs.

Desperate situations of both recipients and donors create an avenue ready for exploitation by international organ trafficking syndicates. Traffickers exploit the desperation of donors to improve the economic situation of themselves and their families, and they exploit the desperation of recipients who may have few other options to improve or prolong their lives. Like other victims of trafficking in persons, those who fall prey to traffickers for the purpose of organ removal may be vulnerable by virtue of poverty, for instance. One factor that is distinct in this form of trafficking in persons is the profile of culprits; while some may live solely from criminal trafficking activities, others may be doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and health care professionals who are involved in legitimate activities when they are not participating in trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal.

The transnational organized crime syndicates are involved in trafficking people for the purpose of organ removal and the organs themselves. The Trafficking in Persons Protocol supplementing the Transnational Organized Crime Convention includes trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal.

UNODC response

Trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal was on the agenda of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons established by the Conference of Parties to the Organized Crime Convention at its fourth session, from 10 to 12 October 2011.

The Working Group recommended that States make better use of the Convention and Trafficking in Persons Protocol in combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal.

The Working Group recommended that States parties to the Convention should encourage relevant United Nations entities, including UNODC, to gather evidence-based data on trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal, including root causes, trends and modus operandi, with the aim of facilitating better understanding and awareness of the phenomenon while recognizing the difference between trafficking in organs, tissues and cells.

The Working Group also requested UNODC to develop a training module against trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal, and provide technical assistance, especially in regard to investigation, exchange of information and international legal cooperation.

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