Organized crime thrives worldwide, affecting governance and political processes, and weakening the advancement of the rule of law and human rights. Agile and multidimensional in character, organized crime feeds off inequality and marginalization while at the same time adapting to new technologies. Organized criminal groups and their modi operandi evolve rapidly as a result of structural changes at the national and international levels, having, most recently, exploited opportunities created by the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Organized crime groups often misuse political instability and spaces left void of governmental control for illicit business purposes. The effects of organized crime are felt all around the globe, eroding governance, infiltrating political processes, fuelling corruption and violence, exploiting vulnerable persons, undermining legitimate markets and posing a growing environmental threat.
UNODC supports Member States in the accession to and implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto as well as follow up on the observations of the Mechanism for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention.
UNODC provides technical assistance to Member States to adopt effective legislation as well as policies, strategies and plans to address transnational organized crime. This includes support to policymakers, legislative drafters and practitioners in the mainstreaming of human rights into national and regional legislative frameworks and strategies and other policies to prevent and combat organized crime. UNODC offer States parties to the Convention and all relevant stakeholders tools that may help in developing and improving laws, strategies and other policies aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention in full compliance with international human rights law, through issue papers and the future Toolkit on Mainstreaming Gender and Human Rights Dimensions in the Implementation of the Organized Crime Convention.
In terms of programmatic work, under its Global Programme on Criminal Disruption (GPCD), UNODC supports Member States in combatting the trafficking of illicit commodities by reinforcing capacity to investigate and prosecute transnational organised crime, and promote international cooperation to disrupt criminal networks in source, transit and destination countries.
Furthermore, UNODC’s Passenger Cargo Border Team (PCBT) through the Control Container Control Programme (CCP) and the Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP) strives to enhance the capacity of national governments to combat crime, illicit drugs and terrorism in order to safeguard human rights and uphold the rule of law. Meaningful consideration of a human rights perspective is an inherent aspect of all PCBT activities. Many of the rights enshrined in the international human rights treaties are cross-cutting and key to UNODC mandates, including in the area of law enforcement.
Specifically, the CCP has integrated a human rights training module in its basic training, using UN guidelines. Such training is routinely carried out under the CCP and is specifically tailored to address situations and human rights aspects which may be encountered by border control, customs and other relevant personnel.
Similarly, AIRCOP aims to maximize the positive impact of human rights on its work, by mainstreaming human rights in the formulation, development, and implementation of all its initiatives. Law enforcement activities such as the interception of high-rick passengers at airports, must be conducted with the utmost attention to the respect and upholding of human rights standards. Indeed, the identification and interception of high-risk passengers (including through AIRCOP support to the UNOCT-led Countering Terrorist Travel Programme) is done through the collection and analyses of passenger data (including API and PNR), which raises human rights concerns that relate to the right to privacy, data protection and retention
Toolkit on Mainstreaming Gender and Human Rights in the implementation of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (to be published in late 2023)
Organized Crime Strategy Toolkit for Developing High-Impact Strategies (available in multiple languages)
For more resources and tools please visit the SHERLOC portal.
Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and constitutes a serious violation of human rights. No country is immune from trafficking in persons, be it as the origin, transit or destination country for victims. Trafficking in persons can take many forms, included, but not limited to, sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, removal of organs or child marriage.
UNODC is devoted to ensuring States have the knowledge, skills and commitment to effectively prevent and address trafficking in persons while protecting victims' and survivors’ rights. Grounded in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and in line with international human rights law, UNODC promotes the development of comprehensive legal frameworks, and the collection of reliable data that inform policies as well as technical cooperation. UNODC has carried out research and developed both policy and practical guidance on victims' rights to inform relevant country policies. UNODC supports strong victim/survivor-centred, gender-responsive and child-sensitive approaches to trafficking responses, and policies that do not negatively affect the human rights of victims and witnesses. A dedicated Toolkit for mainstreaming Human Rights and Gender Equality into criminal justice interventions to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants guides our work to support States and all stakeholders. Moreover, UNODC is committed to routinely involve survivors in its work, to better consider their knowledge and expertise, under strict ethical guidelines. UNODC also encourages cooperation and the exchange of good practices to develop stronger criminal justice systems in which victims’ voices are heard, cases investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and victims awarded remedy and reparation.
Finally, UNODC contributes to human rights mainstreaming in the related normative and policy fields through expert guidance to Member States, multilateral discussion and fora, and the promotion of consistency and coherence in all such dialogue.
More information on normative, policy and technical cooperation work can be accessed on the dedicated webpage.
UNODC also coordinates the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT), a multilateral policy forum with the aim of improving coordination and cooperation among UN agencies and other relevant international organizations to facilitate a holistic and comprehensive approach to preventing and combating trafficking in persons, including protection and support for victims and survivors of this crime.
Additionally, UNODC manages a UN Voluntary Trust Fund for the Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which provides direct humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims.
Smuggling of migrants is a transnational crime generating significant economic returns by circumventing migration laws. However, it can have terrible consequences for those who are smuggled: thousands of migrants die every year during smuggling activities. In addition, smuggled individuals are vulnerable to different human rights abuses and crimes during their journey. In this context, our research reports frequent rape, theft, kidnapping, extorsion and trafficking in persons. Smuggled migrants might also be held in detention for prolonged periods, in conditions that can amount to torture and ill-treatment. Very often, they face criminal charges and discriminatory or abusive treatment, and might not get the protection and assistance needed in transit or at destination as documented in another UNODC publication on aggravated forms of smuggling of migrants and related gender dimensions, which shed light on the experiences of smuggled migrants during their journey, including repeated episodes of sexual violence, in particular among migrant women.
UNODC supports States in their implementation of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UNTOC. The criminalization of migrant smuggling promoted by the Protocol does not aim at criminalizing migrants but prosecuting those who smuggle others for gain. UNODC thus supports the capacity strengthening of criminal justice practitioners in effectively dismantling criminal networks and bringing perpetrators to justice. In doing so, UNODC insists on a strong rights-based approach to law enforcement that keeps protection and assistance to refugees and migrants at its core, irrespective of their status and prioritizes rights and safety of migrants who fall victim to crimes. It also has to be recalled that the Protocol only criminalizes actors who make a financial or a material benefit in the smuggling of migrants and not humanitarian actors who supports them along the way. UNODC encourages States to ensure that smuggled migrants benefit from all the rights they are entitled to, including the right to access justice and remedy, in accordance with human rights law. Additionally, UNODC promotes the respect of the principle of non-refoulement, a customary international law principle that prevents States from returning any person to a place where they would be at risk of torture or persecution.
UNODC launched a United Nations Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants in 2021, to assess the characteristics, drivers and impact of the smuggling of migrants in rapidly changing contexts. The Observatory’s public website provides up-to-date evidence relating to the modi operandi of migrant smugglers, smuggling routes, and abuses suffered in the smuggling context, which is essential to better protecting the human rights of people who are smuggled.
COVID-19 and the Smuggling of Migrants (2021)
Illicit firearms trafficking and misuses represent a serious threat to peace and security and an obstacle to the achievement of sustainable development. While the crimes of illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition do not cause immediate victims, illicit weapons undermine development and their misuse poses a serious challenge to the right to security of persons - ranging from high levels of individual physical insecurity (domestic violence, street, gang and criminal violence and terrorism) to large-scale armed conflicts, in which these arms enable widespread violence and account for the majority of deaths.
UNODC, guided by the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, assists Member States in building adequate criminal justice systems to effectively respond to the challenges posed by organized criminality specifically related to the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition. The Office promotes integrated approaches that combine preventive and regulatory measures, aimed at ensuring adequate controls over the manufacturing, transfer and movement of firearms throughout their lifetime, to prevent their illicit manufacturing, theft, diversion, trafficking and misuse. In this process, it promotes the rule of law by fostering a human rights-based approach and the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights at all levels of its work, particularly in its legislative assistance activities and in the context of its training sessions to detect, investigate and prosecute firearms trafficking and related crimes.
Falsified medical products pose a considerable public health threat as they can fail to cure, may harm and even kill patients, therefore constituting an obstacle to the right to health. Compounding this public health risk is the fact that the supply chain for medicines operates at a global level, and therefore, a concerted effort at the international level is required to effectively detect and combat the introduction of fraudulent medicines along this supply chain.
UNODC strengthens the capacity of Member States to address the illicit manufacture and trafficking of fraudulent medicines in coordination with other stakeholders including via producing legislative guides, thereby promoting the right to health.
Besides generating significant losses in assets and revenues for many developing countries, the theft of and illegal trade in natural resources potentially threatens biodiversity and endangered species, and also the livelihood of rural communities, and even national security. Today, crimes that affect the environment are one of the largest organized criminal activities. Crimes that affect the environment are particularly acute in developing countries, as under-resourced governments often lack the capacity to regulate the exploitation of their natural resources. Rather than promoting economic progress, poorly managed natural wealth can result in poor governance, corruption, and even conflict, with potentially dire impacts on human rights.
Guided by the UNTOC and UNCAC, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, UNODC through its Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment (GPCAE) promotes the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife, forest and mining products at three levels: prevention, enforcement and livelihoods. UNODC provides capacity building support to source, transit, and destination countries of wildlife and forest trafficking, including specialized training and support to rangers, police, customs, prosecutors, investigators, and the judiciary, as well as strengthens inter-agency and cross-border cooperation. UNODC also provides legislative assistance to countries affected by crimes that affect the environment such as waste trafficking or the illegal trade in natural resources. UNODC also promotes alternative livelihoods that can sustain and benefit development across affected states, based on the principles of shared responsibility and human rights.
Cybercrime can occur in the form of cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crime. Generally, all forms of transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking shift ever more to being dependant on or incorporating online aspects. This evolving situation requires States to keep abreast of technological developments and develop skills to address those crimes in adherence with international human rights standards ensuring that criminal responses are compliant with international law.
UNODC promotes long-term, sustainable capacity building and technical advice to prevent and counter cybercrime in a holistic manner, based on international standards and best practice. UNODC provides technical support in six areas: cyber investigations, digital forensics, digital evidence, cryptocurrencies, online child sexual exploitation and abuse and cybercrime prevention.
Cybercrime Module 3 (unodc.org)
Acts of piracy and maritime crime threaten maritime security by endangering the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts may result in the loss of life, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, smuggling of migrants and illicit substances, and disruptions to commerce and navigation. Pirate attacks can have widespread ramifications, including preventing humanitarian assistance and increasing the costs of future shipments to the affected areas.
Through its Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP), UNODC supports Member States to conduct legal reform regarding piracy and maritime crime, train law enforcement agents, and train prosecutors and judges to prepare for maritime crime prosecutions in accordance with the rule of law. The Programme places great importance upon selection of appropriate national counterparts with respect to their human rights profile, that they belong to the formal security architecture and that they operate within a clear legislative framework. Further, UNODC GMCP has embedded a human rights approach in its work ensuring that police and coast guard interventions, including interdictions and arrests, are carried out in line with international minimum standards. Training has also been delivered in collaboration with UNHCR on duties of protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, in connection with the influx of persons fleeing Yemen to Somalia in 2015. Through the provision of interpreters at all stages, where necessary, and the legal aid provided before court, UNODC GMCP is ensuring the rights of the accused are upheld. UNODC GMCP also advocates for and facilitates the repatriation of Somali pirates convicted abroad to their home country as this allows them to maintain closer ties to their families. UNODC is also providing vocational training in prison settings to facilitate the reintegration of released prisoners into society. Special consideration is given to female and juvenile offenders or prison inmates. UNODC GMCP also considers human rights aspects in all its legislative work and has dedicated a chapter on Human Rights at Sea in the third edition of its training manual for criminal justice practitioners on maritime crime.
Money Laundering erodes sustainable development outcomes and undermines the rule of law which also impacts the realization of human rights. Criminals use this process to enable them to enjoy the illicit profits without jeopardising their source. If left unchecked, criminal organisations can undermine the integrity of financial institutions or take control of vast sectors of a national economy. Cognisant of the necessity to balance the criminalization and criminal justice aspects with the protection and safeguarding of human rights, UNODC continuously assesses the range of target groups that benefit from its programming, ensures that its capacity building and knowledge management, include protection of human rights as key components, and that legislation, policies and strategies to fight organised crime, money laundering and terrorist financing incorporate human rights principles.