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Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
Tenth session
Vienna, 8-17 May 2001
Round-up of Session

UNIS/CP/394
18 May 2001

Corruption: Central Theme of Crime Commission Meeting

VIENNA, 18 May (UN Information Service) -- The 10th session of the UN Crime Commission, which concluded here yesterday, for the first time called on the UN to support countries in their efforts to trace and recover the proceeds of corruption. The resolution followed a panel discussion on aspects of combating corruption, which is the focus of a global programme administered by the Vienna-based UN Centre for International Crime Prevention.

In debating the question, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice set the stage for preparations to negotiate a legally-binding international treaty on corruption. That process would require a go-ahead from the General Assembly at its fall session.

The panel on corruption included experts from countries engaged in anti-corruption pilot programmes with the Centre.

The Commission for the first time addressed the problem of international trafficking in protected plant and animal species, in a criminal justice context.

The Commission also saw a priority need to promote the early entry into force of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols dealing with trafficking in human beings, smuggling of migrants and illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms. The Convention has been signed by 125 countries and the European Commission.

Other issues addressed during the session include "cyber-crime", trafficking in explosives, follow-up to last year's UN Crime Congress and hands-on UN assistance to countries requesting help in upgrading their capacities to fight crime.

Corruption

In the debate on corruption, speakers stressed that the problem was driving away foreign investment, deepening poverty and undermining public confidence in public officials. Corruption is now viewed as multifaceted and affecting every society regardless of its level of development and sophistication.

Commission members also viewed the phenomenon as no longer confined within national borders especially when it comes to tracing the proceeds. One panelist said that to tackle corruption, action was needed, particularly in "countries trying to hide from the limelight on this". The major newspapers in his country had anti-corruption investigative units that worked more swiftly than government units, he added.

Nearly all participants in the debate called for the development of an effective legal instrument that could fully address the international community's concerns and provide for its application at a global level

Looking ahead to an expert meeting to take place from 30 July to 3 August to explore the terms of reference for negotiating such an instrument, the Commission urged that the outcome reflect the need to help countries trace and recover the proceeds of corruption. One speaker pointed out that in his country over the past 20 years some $55 to $100 billion had been looted by corrupt officials and transferred to financial institutions in 20 jurisdictions. In trying to find and repatriate those funds, his government was encountering insufficient cooperation from governments and foreign banks. "We have already learned some lessons in dealing with our pilot projects," said one Centre official. "One is that it takes integrity to fight corruption and another is that it takes a long time to build integrity."

"Cyber-crime"

In following up the recommendations of the 10th UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held last year in Vienna, many representatives pointed to growing concern about criminal use of computers and the Internet. Several speakers said this new type of crime posed a significant challenge to their justice and law enforcement systems.

While such offenses in the past were confined to criminals and victims in developed country, the extension of access to many developing countries had led to the problem "going global". Any solutions, they said, would need to involve the participation of both developed and developing countries.

It was noted, however, that so-called "cyber-crime" raised major implications for human rights, commerce and social conditions, in addition to crime control. And, entirely new forms of harmful conduct had to be examined, such as intellectual property problems, unauthorized copying of software and data and the question of what to do about "offensive content".

Another category of "cyber-crime" cited was the use of new technologies by criminals to organize, communicate and avoid getting caught. "Hackers" were gaining unauthorized access to computers to steal data, introduce "viruses" and sabotage whole computer systems.

Other concerns were the use of computers in fraud, industrial espionage, gambling, money laundering and in support of entirely new forms of criminal organization.

The report recommends that computer-related crime be treated as a distinct subject and that developing countries be assisted in addressing the issue. It also suggests consideration of international, national and private-sector measures. Such measures, it notes, will work only with near-universal consensus.

The Commission will continue discussion on the problem and possible remedies at a resumed session in September.

Follow-up to Crime Congress

In an effort to set in motion the objectives and priorities mapped out in the Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice, participants debated proposed plans of concrete action to be taken at the national and international levels. The Declaration is the outcome of last year's UN Crime Congress. It calls for action to combat transnational organized crime, corruption, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and illicit movements of firearms. It also stresses the need to fight money laundering, computer-related crime and terrorism, and to take steps to prevent crime, protect crime victims and to reform the treatment of offenders.

Crime Congresses are held every five years and are open to all 189 UN Member States.

The Commission welcomed offers from Mexico and Thailand to host the next Congress in 2005.

Attendance

The session was attended by representatives of the following members: Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, United States, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. Seventy-five observer countries also took part in the Commission session.

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