“Organized crime poses a threat to international peace and security like never before. It is a major impediment to the realization of the MDG. And it inflicts grave harm on the vulnerable, people and countries alike - such as women, children and migrants, and societies suffering weak governance or mired in underdevelopment and conflict.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message to the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, delivered on 12 April by Mr. John Sandage, Officer-in-Charge, Division for Treaty Affairs, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
Held every five years, this year’s UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was held in Salvador, Brazil, from 12 – 19 April, with the aim to promote more effective crime prevention policies and criminal justice measures all over the world. More particularly, under the theme “Comprehensive strategies for global challenges: crime prevention and criminal justice systems and their development in a changing world,” the Congress aimed to enhance the importance of the criminal justice system in the rule of law architecture and in development; to emphasize the need for a holistic approach in justice reform processes; to identify new forms of crime; and to uphold discussion on substantive items, including: terrorism, crime prevention, migrants smuggling and trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime, children and youth, and violence against migrants and their families.
According to Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, in his message delivered by John Sandage at the opening session, “this Congress enables us to take stock of the world crime situation, and to assess our preparedness to deal with it – particularly emerging threats” and “provides an opportunity to start a systematic review of all crime-related standards and norms – to make sure that we have the legal basis to achieve security and justice for all.”
In his message for the opening of the Congress, the UN Secretary-General called upon all States to ratify and implement the Palermo Convention and its three Protocols, and to establish a mechanism to review its implementation; to strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation, including with civil society, the media, the private sector, criminal justice experts, social scientists, and local and regional authorities; and to be more innovative by staying one step ahead of organized crime.
In a press release, Brazilian Justice Minister Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto and President of the Twelfth Crime Congress, highlighted a new focus within the Congress, namely to tackle cultural property rights, referring to the increased smuggling of flora and fauna by transnational organized crime networks, amongst others for research purposes as well as turning them into patented goods.
During the 8-day Congress, also five workshops were organized on various issues, including international criminal justice education for the rule of law; a survey of UN and other best practices in the treatment of prisoners in the criminal justice system; practical approaches to preventing urban crime; an international coordinated response for drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime; and strategies and best practices against overcrowding in correctional facilities.
At the “Workshop on the Survey of United Nations and Other Best Practices in the Treatment of Prisoners in the Criminal Justice System,” for example, Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak highlighted that some 10 million human beings are deprived of personal liberty facing alarming conditions of detention. Referring to pretrial detention, he stressed that criminal suspects often face this kind detention because they lack the financial resources to bribe corrupt judges, prosecutors or police. He urged therefore that the Human Rights Council would consider drafting a new UN convention on the rights of detainees. To read more about this workshop, see the following UNIS press release.
The Workshop on "Strategies and Best Practices against Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities," underlined the alarming overcrowded conditions of detention in many countries in the world. Overcrowded conditions do not only violate the basic rights of prisoners related to their health, food and accommodation needs; they also undermine the safety of prison staff and the general public. It hinders the effective management of prisons, and the ability of the authorities to address prisoners’ social reintegration needs and ensure that their treatment met United Nations norms and standards, noted Claudia Baroni of UNODC, while underlining the need to review good practices and strategies for improving access to justice for amongst others the poor and vulnerable. Tapio Lappi-Seppala, Director of Finland’s National Research Institute of Legal Policy said that the problem of prison overcrowding can be solved and underscored that “One should not be jailed for being poor.” More information is available in the following UNIS press release.
The high-level segment of the Congress took place on 17 -19 April, during which Heads of State or other high-level government representatives addressed the main agenda items of the Congress, and which let to the adoption of the so-called Salvador Declaration on the last day of the Congress. The Salvador Declaration underlines the need to respect and protect human rights in crime prevention as well as in the administration of criminal justice; the need for greater international cooperation to address organized crime; the need for Member States to adjust their criminal justice systems to changing times; the need to effectively combat cyber-crimes; the need to protect vulnerable groups and to better treat prisoners. According to the UNIS press release “Salvador Declaration Calls for Criminal Justice Reform to Safeguard Human Rights, Security and Development,” the main focus of the Congress was on the role of States. However, it also notes that at the Congress the point was made that crime prevention and criminal justice can not be achieved by governments alone: “it must involve all stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, the media, educational institutions and the public at large. “The law will not rule unless we launch massive efforts to engage common people and make society at large willing to promote the culture of justice”, said Mr. Costa.”
To access the final draft of the Salvador Declaration, click here.
Civil society participation at the Congress
During the Congress, more than 70 side-events have been organized by NGOs on various issues addressing crime prevention, criminal justice and the rule of law. For an overview of these events, click here.
Digest of Terrorist Cases
On 18 April, UNODC also launched a new tool to strengthen the legal regime against terrorism, the Digest of Terrorist Cases. Based on actual investigations, prosecutions and legal experiences in relation to terrorist acts, it analyses various offences, investigation and adjudication issues, as well as the relationship between terrorism and other forms of crime. In the foreword of the report, UNODC Director-General noted “The outcome is this Digest of Terrorist Cases, giving policymakers and criminal justice officials practical ideas and expert insights on how to deal with a relatively new field of jurisprudence. It complements other UNODC tools that provide guidance on how to address acts of terrorism within a legal framework, like legislative guides.”
Upcoming related events:
The Salvador Declaration will be submitted to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice at its nineteenth session from 17-21 May, which will be the first chance for to consider appropriate follow-up action strategies.
Another opportunity to drive the Declaration forward is the High Level Meeting of the General Assembly in New York in June that aims to foster political momentum in support of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
This article is available in Spanish.